Headlight Glare Recognized as Potential Nighttime Driving Hazard

Headlight Glare Recognized as Potential Nighttime Driving HazardMost people know that driving at night can be dangerous. But few may have realized quite how dangerous it really is. According to the National Safety Council, 50 percent of traffic deaths happen at night – even though we only do one quarter of our driving after dark.

What is the reason behind this staggering statistic? Well, there are several, but a recent New York Times article that discusses the hazardous glare from modern, more powerful headlights considered by many to be too bright glare combined with the growing popularity of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), may shed some light on the issue.

According to the Times report, while there are benefits to the continued innovations in lighting technology, the combination of brighter lights and the height at which they sit on SUVs and trucks have led to increased criticism regarding their intensity and impact on the human eye.

When the beam of these overly bright headlights hits a driver in the eyes, it may momentarily “blind” that driver, putting the driver and others at risk of being involved in a car accident.

When did headlights become so bright?

Drivers who think that headlights have become brighter in recent years are correct. According to experts, from the 1950s through the 1980s sealed-beam headlights were used. However, these headlights did not offer good light output. In the 1980s and early 1990s, along came halogen headlights with tungsten filaments and better light output.

Headlight technology continued to evolve, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, high-intensity discharge lights became popular. These headlights cast a bright glow similar to the spectrum of daylight.

In the 2010s, LED headlights became standard on many motor vehicles. LED lights are longer-lasting and more energy-efficient than other headlights. Automakers also considered LED headlights to be a sexy and modern alternative to previous styles of headlights.

Are these lights really a problem?

Experts say that the way newer headlights hit the eye differs from past technology. Headlights have gotten smaller over the years, and that concentration of the light makes the light appear brighter. According to experts, the output spectrum of LED and high-intensity discharge headlights may appear more blueish than that of halogen lights. This can cause more discomfort to the eye than a warm white or yellowish light.

Added to that, headlights on tall pickup trucks and SUVs are mounted at a height that tends to hit drivers in sedans and other low cars right in the eyes. With pickup trucks and SUVs accounting for nearly half of the 280 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States, drivers in lower cars may find those headlights nearly unavoidable.

According to the Times article, complaints about the glare from other cars’ headlights date back at least 20 years, which fits with the timeline of brighter headlights becoming more popular on cars.

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a survey in 2001 asking the public about glare from other vehicles’ headlights, the response was overwhelming. The NHTSA later issued a report stating they had heard back from 4,000 members of the public – that was more responses than they received regarding any other safety concern.

Of those who responded to the NHTSA survey, approximately 30 percent claimed to have experienced nighttime headlight glare that they described as “disturbing.” According to respondents, the headlight glare was from oncoming traffic as well as from cars whose lights hit their review mirrors. Per the NHTSA follow-up report, that 30 percent was a “sizeable number” that could not be ignored.

While it may be expected that the highest percentage of respondents who rated oncoming glare as a problem were older, in fact 11 percent of drivers over the age of 65 voiced concern over the issue. In contrast, 45 percent of people who submitted a negative response regarding the glare of headlights from oncoming cars were between the ages of 35 and 54.

Drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 were more concerned about bright headlights on cars behind them, rather than from oncoming traffic.

It is worth considering that since this NHTSA survey was conducted two decades ago, and the brightness of headlights has only increased during that time, it is possible that the results of a current survey would be similar.

Other causes of nighttime accidents

Of course, while certainly worthy of concern, the glare of overly bright headlights is not the only thing to blame for nighttime car accidents. Other potential causes include:

  • Driver fatigue – A 2016 study by the AAA Foundation found that drivers who miss even one to two hours of sleep are more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident. However, drivers do not even have to miss an hour of sleep to face fatigue. Simply getting into the car after a long day or after several hours of driving can mean driver fatigue that can have serious consequences.
  • Reduced visibility – It may seem ironic to mention this as it is the very problem brighter headlights are intended to correct. However, there are other issues involved in reduced visibility. For example, not every roadway is well-lit with streetlights after dark. Driver visibility is limited to approximately 250 feet with the average headlight and 500 feet with high-beam headlights. If a vehicle’s windshield is not clean that can also contribute to visibility challenges.
  • Compromised vision – When most people think about compromised night vision, they associate the issue with elderly drivers. However, poor night vision can be a problem for drivers of any age. According to the National Safety Council, “depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision can be compromised in the dark.”

Car accidents can happen regardless of the time of day. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, you need a skilled personal injury attorney on your side. Based in Richmond, the experienced car accident lawyers at Phelan Petty represent clients throughout Virginia. To schedule a free consultation, call us in Richmond at 804-980-7100 or fill out our contact form.