The in basket: Over the years, a lot of readers have protested the the extra bright headlights that many cars have these days.
The three most recent are Dave Williams, Alison Loris and Shirley Dinesen. Dave told of increasing numbers of cars he sees in his rearview mirror that he’d “like to take a ball-peen hammer to their headlights! Are the laws not being enforced any more?” he ask. “I know that if MY headlights are creating a shadow of the car ahead of me on road signs, trees, etc., that maybe I should adjust them to aim lower.” Says Alison, “The whiter than white ones with a lavender tinge to them have been around for a while. You know the ones I mean — are they LED bulbs? They are obnoxious enough, but in the last several months I’ve been seeing bright blue headlights. Doesn’t that create a potentially dangerous confusion with police lights? Is it even legal to have blue headlights instead of yellow or white?”
Shirley says they can give people who are sensitive to bright light migraine headaches . “They create a real danger, especially on rainy, gray days.” All three wanted to know if owners of such cars are ever stopped.
The out basket: I’ve long ducked this question. When I first asked it, years and years ago, the State Patrol person in charge of equipment enforcement just sent me the federal regulations governing headlamps, which were so technical as to be incomprehensible.
My night vision has been bad for so long I’ve always guided my car by the edge line, not the centerline. So the ultra bright lights don’t annoy me too much.
I got a taste of what other people must experience one mid-April afternoon when I met a car coming out of the shipyard on Naval Avenue in Bremerton. Even in daylight, both its headlamps were solid sheets of blinding light, not the super-bright pinpoints I often see. I’m guessing that car must have been illegal.
Today’s WSP sources were somewhat more helpful and send me the following. There’s still a lot of incomprehensibility here, but there also is some analysis to help with the interpretation.
“Washington State has adopted the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) 108 for all vehicle lighting requirements which is where the regulations regarding headlight requirements are set for manufacturers,” WSP said. “The lights (including vehicle light bulbs) that are factory installed on a vehicle must meet these requirements in order to be legal in the state of Washington.
“Aftermarket lighting manufactured to meet the FMVSS requirements for operation on the public roadways must also meet these requirements, and is labeled as being Department of Transportation or DOT-approved on the packaging.
“If the lights are approved, then they can be installed legally. However, the lights must be installed according to requirements set forth in (state law) including RCWs 46.37.220 and 230.
“Most often the complaints regarding bright lights are with regard to HID (high intensity discharge) lights. There are some HID lights that do meet FMVSS standards. However, an HID conversion kit would not. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded that it is impossible to produce HID conversion kits (converting a halogen system to HID) that would be compliant with FMVSS 108.
“As far as enforcement is concerned, this can be difficult for an officer on the side of the road as they do not have means of testing the brightness of a light. The labeling the manufacturer puts on the light is not visible to the officer often times without removing the bulb.
“However, in 2010 the WSP did stop 97,093 vehicles for light violations, issued 1,179 tickets and 95,914 warnings.” It didn’t say if that includes burned-out and mis-aimed lights.
Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the local State Patrol detachment, says blue lights of any kind are forbidden on vehicles on the public roads, that they are reserved for police vehicles. But the blue tinted headlamps aren’t blue enough to violate that. They’re more of an ultra-whilte, she said. And frankly, I’ve never see a headlight that could be mistaken for a police emergency light.
If your head doesn’t hurt from reading all of the above, Googling “NHTSA headlamp glare” produces a lot of info you might find helpful.