Addressing – kind of – extra bright headlight complaints

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.

6 thoughts on “Addressing – kind of – extra bright headlight complaints

  1. I would still like to see an answer about headlight color. Is it legal to have blue headlights? What about green? orange? red?

  2. I believe the blog states that blue headlights of any kind are illegal. The brightest ones seem to have a hint of blue but are nothing near those used by law enforcement. Green, orange, or red lights would not illuminate the road in front of you very well.

    I went to a higher output bulb on my older car. The original ones didn’t project anywhere close to what my newer car does. You pay dearly for them – they were $50 for the pair. I read somewhere that a three or four year old bulb loses about 20% of its brightness. Changing bulbs but not changing the way they are aimed hasn’t seemed to bother anyone; I don’t get people flashing their light for me to dim mine.

  3. Unfortunately for me too, the bright headlights are quite expensive to keep them on. There is a “bulb” failure indicator on the dash so if any of my bulbs go out I am warned. I always carry spare bulbs.
    The bulbs do actually give better vision in poor light and bad weather.

  4. All led Headlights should be against the Law .. I am writing this today ,New Ford trucks should be off the road now.They are the worst on a raining night coming at you. These lights and all leds are bad.They are great when you are driving the car or truck ,but not coming at you. PLEASE some one do something. THANK YOU….

  5. I have a huge problem driving at night because of oncoming headlights. I now have glasses I wear specifically so I can do night driving. The biggest reason I have a problem is because regular headlights scatter so much light. I love the LED and blue headlights because they don’t scatter light like the regular ones do.

    What really bothers me, though, are the spotlights on top of and in front of businesses these days, like the one on the auto parts store on 6th street. Coming over the hill going west past the gas station, it’s literally blinding and I can see an accident happening one day. It could be these are the lights we need to take care of.

  6. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what the main problem is. When you are driving at night and have a line of cars heading your direction, all of them sporting headlights that are different in strength, and color tints, everything from blue to pink, I can’t help but to think that your pupils are dilating back and forth to compensate for the change, in color and brightness. I will give a little on the age thing, as I am sure that it plays a role to some extent, but lets be real, almost everyone that I know, has complained about driving at night, and how hard it is these days, due to the increased amount of traffic, and pedestrians, that they have to deal with, poor road conditions, either weather related, or neglect, but what I hear from every age group across the board, is the fluctuation of mainly, the head lights, in color,/ and or strength. I have to also mention the car manufacturers that have decided to light up the whole back end of their cars, with red lights that are absolutely blinding, is a mystery to me, do these people not test drive these things before the start production. Oh and by the way, we have had seat belt laws in this state and across the country, for how many years, and the fact that a large percentage of school buses are not equipped with them. If any vehicle should have seatbelts, it would be school buses, because your child has now become a missile, looking for a target, when an accident has occurred. It would be nice if everything wasn’t such a political problem, when it came to keeping us all safe, by using a little common sense, when it came to decision making, instead of who had more money, or power. Totally frustrated.

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