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America’s Drivers Agree: LED Headlights Are Just Too Bright

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By Katherine Bindley Wall Street Journal AB: I have a partial subscription to WSJ which I keep on forgetting. This article popped up. I agree with the author, the LED Headlights are too bright. Not only are these my thoughts. Mechanical Engineer Victor Morgan, in South Carolina has a light meter on his dashboard. He has been taking readings of the glare from no less than 156 oncoming cars and analyzing the contents of FMVSS 108 table XIX. FMVSS 108 table XIX is a spreadsheet of NHTSA requirements. While the NHTSA says the glare is within limits, Victor says; “The real-world glare far exceeds the maximum NHTSA glare.”  Not a surprise for me. Last prescription has a yellow tint to the lens. This seems to help. I also find the higher the

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by Katherine Bindley

Wall Street Journal

AB: I have a partial subscription to WSJ which I keep on forgetting. This article popped up. I agree with the author, the LED Headlights are too bright. Not only are these my thoughts. Mechanical Engineer Victor Morgan, in South Carolina has a light meter on his dashboard. He has been taking readings of the glare from no less than 156 oncoming cars and analyzing the contents of FMVSS 108 table XIX. FMVSS 108 table XIX is a spreadsheet of NHTSA requirements. While the NHTSA says the glare is within limits, Victor says; “The real-world glare far exceeds the maximum NHTSA glare.” 

Not a surprise for me. Last prescription has a yellow tint to the lens. This seems to help.

I also find the higher the vehicle, which is dangerous in a collision, the worse the glare. Both conditions need to be resolved so bumper meets bumper and lights are at a similar level.

Anyways the article . . .

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If you’re blurting out expletives in the car, you’re not alone. Use of the powerful lights has been steadily rising, and with it frustration—and hacks.

There is a phenomenon producing simmering rage among drivers across the nation. On dark country roads, busy city streets and state highways: Car headlights are too bright.  

“This winter it was, like, oh my God, it’s every third car,” says Barbara Banfield, 67, a retired nurse who lives on Whidbey Island in Washington state.   

Banfield was traveling a well-lit state highway one night and felt blinded. First she thought an inordinate number of inconsiderate people had their brights on.

“Then I noticed that the bright lights were a different color. They were very white,” she says. “Then some older car would come by with their nice little yellowy headlights that don’t bother you at all and I just started making the connection.”

Banfield now wears special blue-light blocking glasses while driving at night: “I am a nerd,” she says.

LED lights started popping up in new cars around 15 years ago. They grew in popularity because they tend to offer better road illumination and are longer lasting than other types of headlights, according to SAE International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The number of cars with LED headlights has been steadily rising in recent years and with it, frustration among drivers. In 2020, 54% of new cars in the U.S. had LED lights. By 2023, it had grown to 76%, according to an analysis by industry tracker TrendForce.

Thought it was my eyes

LED lights can be mistaken as brights. Oncoming drivers often flash their own high beams as if to say,

“Hey man, your brights are on!”

But the offending car’s brights aren’t on; their lights are just very, very bright—and possibly not aligned correctly. Suddenly finding headlights so aggravating is leading motorists to get their eyes checked, and blurt out expletives while alone in the car. Questioning whether they are having age-related issues with nighttime driving—before turning 50.

The most industrious among them have taken up headlight investigative work as a hobby, complete with slide presentations and testing devices.

Some swear LED lights are fine, good even, as they make it easier to see things, like pedestrians. 

The angle the headlight points is the real problem and everyone should get the alignment checked. There are also drivers of cars with LED lights who feel bad: They want you to understand they are aware they are blinding you but they can’t do anything about their lights so could you please stop flashing your brights at them? It is making it hard for them to see.  

Michelle Cristiani, 50, a teacher at Portland Community College in Oregon, was so bothered by oncoming headlights that she assumed something was wrong with her eyes.

She asked her eye doctor about her difficulty with headlights and says the doctor implied it was part of getting older. But Cristiani says her teenagers have complained about oncoming headlights too.

“They’d all be like, ‘Damn’ and put their hands up,” she says. 

Cristiani thought about getting the headlights of her 2010 

Mazda upgraded to LEDs— “My thinking was if I had brighter lights as well, maybe it would illuminate my part of the road better…I thought it was like an arms race,” she says—but she no longer commutes at night so scrapped the idea.

Paul Branham, 36, who works at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., says on two-lane county roads people frequently flash their brights at his Tesla Model 3, which has LED lights.

“Sometimes they’ll wait until they are right up on you and they flash them at you at the last minute,” he says. “You get this frustration. I wasn’t trying to blind you but there’s nothing I can do about it.” 

Branham flashes his high beams back so the other car knows his brights weren’t on. 

Blame geometry?

Cyclists have their own LED gripes. Some wear LED headlamps, while others attach LED lights to the front of their bike. The worst is when people do both and don’t properly angle them, says Tony Cruz, 52, a former professional cyclist and Olympian. 

Cruz recalls cycling on a path in Long Beach, Calif., and having to pull over as a blinding light slowly came at him.

“At first I thought, is there a train? Is there a locomotive on the path?” he says. “It was just a guy casually riding home on his e-bike.” 

Mark Rea, a professor at the Icahn School Medicine at Mount Sinai, says geometry is partly to blame for the nuisance of LED lights. He does research for the school’s Light and Health Research Center, a small portion of whose financial support comes from carmakers and their suppliers.  

Headlight misalignment is the primary contributor to glare, he says, and that glare is going to be more pronounced when an SUV’s or a truck’s headlights pass a lower-sitting car.  

LED lights on cars are about 60% brighter than halogens, which is good for making the road more illuminated, especially things on the periphery, but can be a problem for some people, Rea included.

“Yes I am bothered by it, but it’s not every single car,” he says, estimating that about 20% of other cars are glaring; he drives a sports car, which sits low. 

The sleuths

Rea says wider adoption of newer adaptive headlights—which have sensors that can redirect light—should make glare less of an issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved the lights in 2022. 

A spokeswoman for NHTSA, which sets requirements for headlight brightness, says the agency’s standards continue to limit the amount of glare directed toward oncoming and preceding traffic.

Victor Morgan, 41, and a mechanical engineer in South Carolina, isn’t convinced. He has been digging into NHTSA requirements for over a year, after a long mountain drive prompted him to question if he was getting old because he was so irritated by headlights.

He created a push-button light-blocking device for his car to prevent glare from those behind him and posted it to Reddit.

“There was an outpouring of support,” he says. “I wasn’t becoming an old curmudgeon. The lights were brighter.”

Morgan has since driven around with a light meter on his dashboard taking readings of the glare from no less than 156 oncoming cars and analyzed the contents of FMVSS 108 table XIX, a spreadsheet of NHTSA requirements. His conclusions: “The real-world glare far exceeds the maximum NHTSA glare.” 

The NHTSA spokeswoman says the agency recently received a petition for rule-making to consider setting a maximum photometric intensity for low beams on headlamps. The petition is currently under review.

Mark Baker, president of the Soft Lights Foundation, a nonprofit group, says he spends his days advocating for more regulation of LED headlights, keeping in touch with industry and government agencies. He isn’t convinced that mass headlight realignment or widespread adoption of adaptive headlights are going to solve the problem. 

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist but there’s an auto-industry ecosystem that’s like an echo chamber,” he says. “Everybody is mystified by why they are being blinded. And it’s not our eyes.”

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