Holy you know what! I thought I was the only one, but now I know the truth! Those incredibly bright headlights blinding me in nighttime traffic are not a figment of my imagination nor, as my ophthalmologist so kindly suggests, a result of “old eyes.” The best part of all this is that I am not the only one wanting to complain about it.
Those lights are real; they are there (in living color at that); and in my humble opinion, as a result of driving thousands of miles since I first got my license as a teen-ager, they are a safety hazard.
Now I have to tell you, I not only like bright headlights on my car, I like bright headlights, period, mainly because I like to see where I’m going, especially at night – especially on poorly illuminated roads.
But when I got my license eons ago, there was a difference between low and high beams – namely, that low beams were not as bright as the high beams (this is not rocket science) and low is what you use when there’s oncoming traffic. The reason for that, we were told and in fact were tested on in the written drivers tests, was that high beams would blind oncoming drivers and presented a safety hazard.
So what happened? Where was I when it all changed and safety went out the window? How did we get to the point where technology made possible newfangled headlights that are great for the driver who owns them but a hazard for everyone else. How nice that they have great illumination; what about the rest of us?
Now I admit, I don’t drive a brand new car. In fact, both vehicles I own are in the late ’80s vintage, but they are not bottom of the line and they both have powerful high beam lights. I mean, when I use them, I can see. But I also know enough to dim them as a courtesy – and, by the way, to follow the law.
But over the last few years, there has been a change in the headlights in newer vehicles. More and more of the vehicles headed my way on surface streets, freeways and interstates are equipped with headlights that not only illuminate, they blind other drivers (me included) – and they do it in living color!
Never mind the older, sealed beam headlights with a soft, slightly off-white/yellowish glow. That’s what we had and were used to, and then halogen lights were introduced which produce a sharper, whiter light. But there’s no comparison between these two and the new version – the HID, high intensity discharge lights which are ignited with xenon gas.
These new lights produce a piercing silver-white light, but I have also seen them in metallic blue, sharp yellow, deep purple, and even lime green! It’s not only blinding, it’s also a distraction. The driver of the car may not see the colors but to drivers in the oncoming lanes, they certainly add a festive look to highway driving!
Too bad it also means that I can’t see a thing in the area in front of my own car while I’m traveling at night at speeds upwards of 55-65 mph. If anything were right in front of me or some person or animal darted in front of me, I simply would not be able to see it. I don’t know about you, but that seems to me to be a safety issue. Wasn’t there an engineer somewhere who saw this or was the new light just regarded as another profit center?
Of course, I could flash my lights to suggest the oncoming driver put on his low beams – and I do. Tough luck though – because those high-power lights that are blinding me are their low beams. When they put on their high beams, it’s even worse.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has heard enough complaints about the situation that they are finally going to investigate. It’s about time. This isn’t simply an issue of design although the HID’s make it possible for auto designers to have more flexibility in headlight size, shape and placement. This is an issue of safety.
However momentarily, if oncoming drivers experience severe glare which affects their vision, if they experience the inability to see the road directly in front of them and at the sides, if they are distracted by the variety of colors of oncoming headlights, if they’re being blinded by one car and flash their brights but nothing happens and then leave their brights on in annoyance – there is no way these issues can be written off as just cosmetic, having nothing to do with safety.
Perhaps there are not many instances of accidents caused by the situation, but why do we need to wait until people are injured or killed? I can only think of the absurdity of the federal air bag standards which killed and maimed children and small adults in the name of safety. Oops! So they changed the bags – a little late for the dead folks. That was stupidity at its worst, and it appears that the headlight situation is the same.
If in fact there haven’t been any injuries and fatalities, then the NHTSA has a golden opportunity to make some changes in the headlight standards to make our roads safer.
For those who use their cars and headlights to show how cool they are, well then, install a fax machine or a cell phone with a remote speaker or even put a light on the top of your radio antennae. That’ll impress your friends without making the rest of us risk our lives even more than usual every time we’re behind the wheel.
Why do I think nothing will be done until the bodies pile up?