Illuminating the Problem of Blinding Headlights

Everyone has experienced the irritation of dangerously bright headlights coming toward them in the black of night on a two-lane road. The typical driver in this situation reacts to the discomfort by holding up a hand to block some of the glare, looking away, closing his or her eyes, or squinting. All of these reactions could contribute to a collision.

Another potentially dangerous consequence is that after the cars pass, some people, especially older drivers, have a hard time refocusing after being subjected to the abnormally bright lights.

What is going on? Several things contribute to this problem:

  • Some people retrofit on their vehicles with very bright headlights that are legal in other countries, but not in the U.S., or with intense lights only legal for off-road vehicles.
  • Newer High Intensity Discharge Lighting (known as HID lights), a xenon-gas powered headlight, have been the object of many complaints as too bright.
  • Any headlight installed by an amateur instead of a mechanic is more likely not to have the correct beam position, which may irritate the eyes.
  • Although installed on some, U.S. automobiles are not required to come equipped with automatic leveling systems that adjust beam directions for heavy loads that otherwise throw the beams off.
  • Drivers simply forget to turn down their high beams when approaching other vehicles, or think they have license to drive around with their brights always on.
  • Wrong-sized tires can lift headlights higher than intended by the manufacturer.
  • A car that has been in an accident could have had its headlight beams thrown off the correct aim.
  • For whatever reason, at least 64 percent of inspected cars had "at least one headlamp misaimed," according to a study by the Lighting Research Center of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It is difficult for a car owner to know if his or her vehicle's headlights are correctly aligned and aimed. Not all states have mandatory automobile inspections and those that do might not check for this problem. However, New York and New Jersey are examples of states with periodic mandatory vehicle inspections that include checking headlight aim and mounting. If you are not in a mandatory headlight inspection state, having your headlights inspected periodically by a professional is a good idea.

If you were involved in a car accident and believe headlight glare may have been a contributing factor, be sure to discuss the mishap as soon as possible with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about your legal rights and be sure all aspects of the incident are thoroughly investigated.