By on December 31, 2017

2018 Volkswagen Atlas headlamp

Even though headlights have evolved from uniform circles illuminating the roadway in largely the same way to diverse units that look and function very differently, their overall performance has improved immensely. Nobody is going to jump from a 1955 DeSoto to a 2018 Dodge and think “Wow, these headlamps are just terrible.”

However, the International Institute for Highway Safety has been on a two-year mission to make modern headlights look bad and there are two possible explanations as to why. Either the IIHS genuinely believes the current offerings from manufacturers are unsafe, or it’s trying to promote competition within the industry to produce a better bulb. The truth, as usual, is likely somewhere in the middle. 

Original equipment manufacturers have begun incorporating headlight design as part of the vehicle’s overall styling. Headlamps are now almost as indicative of a specific brand as the grille or taillights. But the IIHS thinks the move has resulted in OEMs prioritizing style over functionality. The group’s updated illumination metrics absolutely devastated its Top Safety Pick List for 2018 and we ran story-after-story outlining specific segments where the vast-majority of models had underperforming headlights.

In July of 2016, the IIHS couldn’t find a single vehicle in the small SUV category with forward illumination that it would consider good. In fact, over two thirds of the vehicles it tested were given a “poor” score. The group has called its findings “concerning,” citing blinding risks and lackluster from-the-factory aiming as possible hazards for nighttime driving.

Has two-years of condemnation made a difference? Not universally. While some vehicles have improved their headlights to repair a damaged safety rating, Automotive News referenced a handful of popular domestic models from Ford and General Motors that didn’t make the cut — garnering a marginal or poor score. While GM declined to comment a spokesperson from Ford said, “Safety continues to be one of the highest priorities in the design of our vehicles. Ford develops headlamps for our vehicles through rigorous real-world driving and customer feedback. Ford is committed to meeting or exceeding applicable federal motor vehicle safety laws.”

In some respects, it’s unfair to expect an immediate shift in manufacturing to account for testing that didn’t even exist two years ago. Matthew Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at the insurance institute, admitted insurance group’s headlight studies are still new to consumers. The first study was released in March 2016 and he said said the organization is testing headlights “more dynamically” than most automakers had previously experienced.

“We’ve already seen some manufacturers go back and change their design — or more commonly, tighten up their aiming process at the factory,” Brumbelow said. “There’s still a long way to go, but we’re glad we’ve seen the improvements.”

One such manufacturer was Kia. The 2016 and 2017 Kia Sorento, 2017 Sportage and 2016 Optima all received poor scores from the IIHS. However the 2017 Optima has since received a good score, while the 2018 Sorento was upgraded to an acceptable score. In a statement to Automotive News, Kia Motors America said that vehicle safety is a priority for the automaker but said the insurance group’s testing “goes well beyond federal requirements and is only one of the many tests used to evaluate vehicles.”

“Kia will carefully evaluate the results of the new IIHS test procedure, along with the results of all other tests, as part of its commitment to continuous product improvement,” the automaker said.

Todd Morgan, senior vice president of global product development at Varroc Lighting Systems, thinks supplier innovation will be a key aspect in helping OEMs improve headlamp scores. In addition to new products, like upgraded LED technology, Morgan says existing products like automatic headlight-leveling could be helpful. Used to help re-aim beams when a vehicle is weighed down in the back, leveling is mandatory in Europe but not the United States.

Morgan and Brumbelow also agree that adaptive driving beams, which allow high beams to light a driver’s entire path, with the exception of any oncoming vehicles, are the next big step. While the technology has cropped up in Europe and Japan, U.S. regulations don’t yet permit it. “It’s not yet legal on the road in the United States, which is really a shame because this is a huge advancement in safety,” Morgan said. “Everything is automated.”

The NHTSA is currently conducting research on the use of adaptive driving beams in other countries. However, it declined to comment on its progress. Presently it mandates the limits for maximum and minimum intensity of headlight beams but doesn’t take aspects, like aim, into account.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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82 Comments on “The IIHS is Hoping For a Bright Future When it Comes to Headlights...”


  • avatar

    We would be ahead if NHTSA scrapped all US regulations on headlights and adopted ECE regulations.

    For that matter, we would be net ahead if the USA scrapped all of the FMVSS and adopted ECE regulations.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Where they make sense. Although as Europeans embrace brodozers it might be a moot issue in the long run.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      The headlight manufacturers have figured out how to meet both sets of regulations with one set of headlights. Most European cars only have LHD and RHD drive variations of their headlights. For my E Class I searched forever, only to confirm that both the DOT and Euro lights were the same part number from Hella. The matrix beam headlights being the exception, and they are fantastic.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Yup! From 2012!

      https://youtu.be/-dvPZ3H1Vm4

    • 0 avatar
      amca

      I want those LED projector lights with a million odd elements that the computer can paint on the scene as needed. Audi is using them in Europe.

      They can do useful things like keep the edge of illumination just infant of an oncoming car’s path to prevent blindness. And they can spotlight a pedestrian or bicycle who needs to be noticed. Brilliant!

      NHTSA has been thinking about them for the past year or two.

      (May I add that the LED headlights in my ’14 A8 are stupendous? Like I say to myself every time they’re on: “wow, great illumination.”)

  • avatar
    kkop

    I’m all for the IIHS pushing improvements to headlights. Many modern headlights _are_ blinding. An inconvenience when driving my truck, but downright dangerous when riding my motorcycle.

    IMO, part of the problem is design, and another part is the lack of easy adjust-ability of headlights. In Europe, all vehicles come with easy headlight adjustment on the dash. In the US, as soon as I put two bags of dogfood in the trunk, I am blinding others.

    Oh,and then there’s the idiots who ‘upgrade’ their conventional headlights by replacing bulbs with HD kit. Or more recently, badly designed LED strips.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “adaptive driving beams, which allow high beams to light a driver’s entire path, with the exception of any oncoming vehicles, are the next big step”

    If I had my way, instead of automatically dipping the high beams for oncoming drivers, the vehicle would shine a bright light directly into the forgetful driver’s eyes. If the driver manually lowers their high beams then the bright light turns off. Who’s with me? Any of the B&B up for signing one of those change dot org petitions to get the DOT onboard with this idea? Sure, it’ll put a few people in the ditch but I think it will be better in the long run! Besides, the chronic high beam forgetter-offenders deserve it anyway.

    The feature would also work when forgetting your high beams when you’re closely following someone.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to think like you do Jim, but came to realize that proceeding as you suggest is analogous to brake checking a tailgater. Makes a bad situation more dangerous and potentially harming you more than doing nothing. If I react now I usually quickly turn my lights off, then on. Yeah, I know, that’s dangerous too – that’s why I rarely react to brights any more. I usually try to make my main focus the right edge of the lane I’m in when facing oncoming high beams – not the best solution, but it sorta works for me.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        THX, you misunderstood my proposal. I meant that the offending car would have a dashboard-mounted, super bright spotlight to blind its own forgetful driver. The oncoming driver would see the high beams for far away and have time to take precautions for the inevitable wild swerve.

        I think once these get installed in all cars, there would be a slightly painful transition period but then nobody would be forgetful anymore. Sorta like how you rip the bandaid off. It hurts for a bit but after that everything is better.

        I really think this would benefit mankind, at least the segment that does practice high beam courtesy.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Blinding drivers, is rarely a good way to make traffic safer……

          Equip police cruisers with sensors detecting the blinding. Grant each driver 3 free strikes per year. On the fourth offense, 6 months prison time. No excuses nor any more ado about it. People would quickly wise up. Either by paying attention, by driving less in the dark, by creating a healthy market for ever cheaper/better automatic solutions, or a combination of the above. Problem solved. Next.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            The 6 months of prison time idea has some merit. Force them to make vanity plates during that time: “LOW BMZ” “DIP PLS”

            I’m still partial to the taste of their own medicine/ blind them back though, especially if it’s something that does it to them from inside their own car. Sort of like an ignition key breathalyzer but even better!!

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Sometime their wayward HID or LED on low are just too bright.

      • 0 avatar
        Hank

        Ford trucks since the late 80s are either misaligned or too bright for oncoming traffic. My guess is the former.

        I’d like to see a standard color range. The bluer, the harder on oncoming drivers.

  • avatar

    possibly the only time I agree with IIHS, who normally are in favor of every single anti motorist idea proposed.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    One of my pet peeves is mouth breathers who forget to turn off their plow lights, you shouldn’t be able to read my music playlist while you’re behind me at a red light. Fog lamps sans fog is a close second.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    The biggest step backwards in lighting safety has been daytime running lights. (DRLs) I see many drivers after dusk whose DRLs are providing just enough light for them to believe they have turned on their headlights. Until they finally catch on as pitch black approaches, they are invisible from behind because DRLs are not linked to tail lights.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Damn Hondas at night with del and no tailights.

    • 0 avatar
      I_like_stuff

      Modern cars have sensors that turn on lights(actual headlights and tail lights) at dark. At least virtually every car I have driven in the past 10 years has had that feature. And I’ve owned and rented A LOT of cars in that time frame.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Lots of Toyotas do not have auto lamps and they have an EL instrument cluster so that is lit up when the car in on.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Scoutdude has it. Constantly backlit instrument clusters are to blame for the rash of people who drive without headlights as it is growing dark.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            There are cars out there that have clusters that auto dim to let you know your lights are off when they should be on. People hate this feature, but it should be standard.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            The problem with auto dim clusters is they usually only dim (but not darken to off) and the driver doesn’t notice because his/her eyes are adjusted to the ambient light at dusk.

            (But the root problem is the driver is as dim as the auto cluster…)

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            That might make the problem worse for me. I have my gauge brightness set very low when the lights are on.

            It’s immediately obvious if my lights aren’t on after dark because the bright orange day gauges become unpleasant. But it rarely happens because I usually leave them on auto. Which I suppose is why it happens the odd time when I turn them off for some reason. I expect the car to handle that now.

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            My Audi has a constantly backlit gauge cluster. It dims as it gets dark outside and will eventually go out entirely when it’s really dark. You basically have no choice but to turn on your headlights at that point if you want to see any of your gauges.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      As a motorcyclist, I’m really against DRL’s. Back when only bikes had them, you noticed us in traffic. Now, we’re lost amongst all the car and truck DRL’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Delta88

      By far and away the biggest offenders are Toyota drivers with Honda coming in a close second. Sometimes they are driving with DRLs at night but more often just putting around the city with no lights at all. Leave the damned things set to “auto” instead of turning them off if you drive one of those brands!!! VW and Audi figured this out long ago. So if your headlamps are not on, regardless of setting, and it is dark, the instrument panel lights go black. I’ve experienced this a few times when pulling into dark parking garage and for some reason the switch was set to “off” instead of “auto”. Took me all of 5 seconds to realize the situation and switch back on the lamps. I can’t imagine that IP light sensor costs more than a few bucks per car, if that.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        The problem with “DRLs always on” (which is necessary to leave the “auto” feature on – at least with Toyota) is that the constant DRL on burns through headlight bulbs at a frightening rate if you actually drive any decent distance over the course of a year.

        My DRLs are set to off because I’d be buying headlight bulbs every 6 months otherwise (20,000 miles per year annual driving.) With DRLs off and only turning the headlights on when I need them (which to me also includes anytime its precipitating or overcast) I can get a couple of years out of a bulb.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I drive a car in a land of bro-dozers and SUVs, so I am staring right at their headlights. Now, add in the fact that many of these are retrofitted with HIDs (when they are not designed for it), light bars, and I’m in the north so its dark for 5-monthes of drive time and that’s a lot of blinding glare! My car has factory HID lights and they are completely washed out by trucks and SUVs behind me, I spend a lot of time guessing where curbs are etc. As well, I see the new Acuras and Hondas use LEDs, and they produce the worst glare of any cars I’ve seen.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    I just picked up a GTI with adaptive lighting. Best damn lighting in the world, I swear.

    And yet, IIHS “suddenly” decided these are “poor performers”.

    Until further notice, the IIHS headlight ratings are meaningless.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I have adaptive headlights on XTS Vsport and Envision Prem ll. Nice at speed on thr highway and are quick to dip. Side streets they go into effect at 25 mph and had a couple cars flash me on rural roads.

    • 0 avatar
      jeanbaptiste

      Did they test the HIDs or the halogen setup? My non-lighting package gti truly has horrible headlights and even more pathetic high beams.

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        They tested all trims, and found them poor:

        http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/volkswagen/gti-4-door-hatchback

        Click on the Headlights link.

        If what I see is poor, I can’t imagine what their agenda is. My Autobahn HIDs auto level and move depending on speed, and have the automatic side lights for going around curves and corners.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      They used what to me is a silly measurement standard- reach from the front of the car *without* doing any adjusting. My GTI’s lights were aimed too low from the factory (given they have a European style hard cutoff), and I have no doubt that so was the one tested. Ditto my M235i with adaptive lights. Aim them up a touch if needed.

      If you have the ability to do any coding you can turn off the restrictions for the lights that they put on North American cars and they are even better. My car doesn’t have auto high beams being a Sport so I could not enable everything, but I was able to allow them to swivel more and at broader speed range, and raise the aim a touch more at highway speeds. Makes a difference. If you have an SE or an Autobahn with the auto high beam equipment you can do the whole all-singing and dancing swivel around the car in front of you thing.

  • avatar
    WalterRohrl

    “However, the International Institute for Highway Safety has been on a two-year mission to make modern headlights look bad and there are two possible explanations as to why. Either the IIHS genuinely believes the current offerings from manufacturers are unsafe, or it’s trying to promote competition within the industry to produce a better bulb. The truth, as usual, is likely somewhere in the middle. ”

    The first I in IIHS is not for International….

    They are doing both, current designs ARE unsafe for users and other traffic, and producing better headlight designs is a worthy goal.

    Glad they are getting involved, they seem to be the only organization that actually gives a crap about improving safety in vehicles, more so even than the manufacturers who only seem to do something when their poor designs are pointed out or in essence publicly shamed.

    Headlights have gone from too dim and scattered without enough forward illumination to now just being bright and still scattered while blinding oncoming traffic. Anyone who ever drives on non-divided highways knows what I mean. As you approach vehicles with these lights your own vision is so degraded that your only reference practically becomes trying to pass slightly to the right of the oncoming light – this seems like a recipe for misjudging things or hitting something and then ricocheting into the path of the oncoming traffic.

    This is what government should be for, of course now it’s left to an Insurance Industry consortium to actually force progress.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      No.

      The government shouldn’t be trying to do this. The government would muck it up.

      This is a great example of the private sector demonstrating leadership. The IIHS impacts the automakers’ bottom lines, because it seeks to protect insurers’ bottom lines.

  • avatar
    RS

    They should require that bulbs be easy to replace too. Its amazing how much has to be disassembled to swap out a bad headlight bulb on some vehicles.

  • avatar
    heybob

    As I recall Cibie Z-beam headlights (with a separate bulb) were recommended by the California Highway Patrol for approval in California. It is said that the CA legislature would not approve them because General Electric lobbyists knew that their sales would be hurt. You could buy them for “off road” use. Much better light pattern.

    • 0 avatar

      ah, the Z beam. Back in the day when it was easy to toss the DOT lights and bolt in E codes, the Z beams were better than a set of cheap Hellas.

      I think also that the lights in a lot of cars today are like the stereos….the base one sucks and is designed to up sell you to the better one. I’ve HID n my GM and Acura…had HID in the BMW. In two of the three cars the HID were upgrades. I had a VW without HID, and regretted not checking the box.

      Since I had great E codes in the 80’s, using nothing but glass, a bulb and a reflector, there is zero excuse for any crappy headlamps….zero.

      • 0 avatar
        la834

        I upgraded the low beams of my ’80s quad sealed beams to replaceable bulb
        (H4) Hella E code lights and they were still vastly superior to the American brand halogen sealed beams.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I had Z-Beams back in the day, still have one kicking around somewhere, but the reflector has to be bad after 35 years. One of the parts Scouts I bought had the Hella E-codes and I’ve bought another set for my other Scout, which I also added relays to.

      I am debating between converting my F250 XL and E150 XL to either the Hella E-codes or the OE aero lamps. I regularly cruise the list of Craig for someone parting out one of them. The aero lamps definitely look better but the Hellas would be new. For the aero’s I won’t do aftermarket and new OE ones are too expensive. So I’d be getting used and they will likely already be scratched up and at least on their way to yellowing.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    Cars are so cheap these days, we desperately need more expensive useless regulations.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Cars are ridiculously cheap today, there is plenty of room for improvement. A $10K Nissan Versa is a better car in every way than the best luxo-barge of the 70s. And in the case of lighting, regulations ARE the reason headlights are so crappy in the US, as the best technology and beam patterns are not allowed here. It doesn’t cost any more to make a lens with a good beam pattern than one with a crappy one.

      Though IMHO, the one more expensive thing that should be mandated is the end of plastic headlights that yellow with age. Either something non-yellowing should be required, or they should have a perpetual warranty.

  • avatar
    RHD

    There should be uniform lighting standards for all vehicles, because headlight performance is one characteristic that you can’t check during a daytime test drive.
    After more than a century of horseless carriages, haven’t the bureaucrats had enough time to figure this out yet?

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      No, it’s because bureaucrats have been prevented from measuring let alone developing new regulations since the 80s. They’re a great whipping boy, however, when the market runs amok subverting rules.

      I think Audi should not be allowed to sell cars in the US with rear fog lights. They’re as annoying as headlights on the highway after dark.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I’m on my third vehicle with HID headlamps, and it (2016 Challenger) is subjectively the best HID implementation I’ve experienced thus far. It was kind of cool to have my observations validated by a recent car & driver feature comparing headlamp technology/improvements over the last 100+ years. The HID setup on the current Challenger absolutely trounced some LED units on a brand new Mercedes E-Class. Granted, their comparison included a Model T, a Miata with standard 7″ sealed beams, then the two new cars (Challenger and E-Class) representing the two dominant “premium” headlight options, HID and LED, so not a comprehensive comparison by any stretch.

    The article did support an assertion I’ve made for years that headlamp optics are often more important than the type of light source. No bulb technology will overcome crappy optics (witness my ’03 Stratus that had perhaps the worst headlamps ever), but good optics can make even the humble incandescent bulb perform admirably. I run Cibie E-codes on my Jeeps with Osram rallye 70/65W bulbs and the high beams are simply breathtaking….blows my Challenger away in sheer down-the-road reach, even if the color temperature is a bit “warmer” than the HIDs.

  • avatar
    azmtns

    While IIHS talks about current performance, the elephant in the room is the horrible way headlights discolor over the years rendering lighting performance almost useless. What might be a great headlight today, might suck in five years. What’s the point of making good lighting if there is no durability?

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Glad to see I’m not the only person with this gripe. I had a 1997 Cavalier with the composite headlights, when I sold it off for scrap in 2015 the lenses were clearer than my 2009 Pontiac G6 at that time. The Cavalier was a true beater in the sense that it was a commuter/kid car for it’s entire life span. It rarely saw a garage and not a lot of money was spent on washing it, either.

      I think the real culprit here is the auto company’s wishes to cut costs, so they cheapen certain parts whenever they can. As long as the part lasts to the end of the lease, that’s fine with them. Those of us who keep a car longer than 36 months, are hosed.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Yup, I have an old nineties car with glass headlights, still clear. The polycarbonate lenses on my ‘08? Hazy. Thanks.

        Until IIHS attacks this real world problem that affects everyone, I would like to borrow the words of a great man, what Sean Connery once said to Alex Trebek on Celebrity Jeopardy, as to what the IIHS can do with their headlight study… but TTAC is a family site so I won’t say it.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          I park outdoors in a very sunny location, and my headlights last and last. You just have to wax them three or four times a year, for UV protection.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            It’s never crossed my mind to wax them. If that does indeed work then it’s a great tip, and thank you. I’ll have to try it with my next new car, whenever that happens. I have got reasonable results with one of those headlight restore kits from the auto parts store, and with a toothbrush and toothpaste, but those seem to last less than a year.

            From a consumer’s point of view, that seems like a strange thing for the manufacturers to require of every owner of a modern automobile… when the modern automobiles of the 1990s didn’t require it at all.

    • 0 avatar

      That can be fixed. Go to the Auto parts store. I spent $25 on a kit that had three different sanding pads and a final rubbing compound. Follow the instructions… and a little elbow grease lifted the UV haze off the plastic, and got me back almost new lights on a 2008 Honda product.

      I miss glass Hellas or Cibie. Four round, with 55w low and 100 w highs or two round with 55/60 and a set of 100w driving lights.

      The worst lights ever were the four small squares in the 80’s. When DOT finally allowed an H4 version, and the 9005/9006 combo, I thought we were home free. Unfortunately, no, as I never expected the car makers to eff this one up….

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        I’ve done it with just fine wet sanding and polish on a buffing wheel. It’s enjoyable to watch the yellow wash off as you sand and leave a clear new surface behind. But then it dries and looks hazy until it’s polished.

        They yellowed again within a year though, so the next time I cleaned them with alcohol and clear-coated them and they remained clear for a couple years after when the vehicle was sold. However, they had a bit of a frosted finish because I hadn’t sanded or polished again after the clearcoat. I finally did that before selling the vehicle. Hopefully I didn’t remove too much of the paint and it lasted. I don’t remember the details, but I believe just a polish was enough at that point.

        I had previously done a buddy’s ’92 Camry without using the clearcoat, and after it yellowed we checked Rockauto and he just bought new headlamp assemblies for about $25 each (including bulbs!). I’d have preferred that option on the other vehicle too (a ’93 MX-6), but new headlamp assemblies were no longer in existence for that model.

        I guess I should start waxing mine. They’re still over $100 new.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    Was very hopeful for the LED headlights on my ’17 Fusion. I was disappointed and the IIHS agreed with me. (The auto high beams work well at least.)

    They do look nice from outside the car, but they just don’t illuminate all that well from inside the car.

    Love the HIDs on our 330i and CX-9. I’ve also had some cars with good halogen reflector headlights, you never know what you are gonna get, so I see the value in the IIHS ratings.

    I have re-aimed the headlights in almost every car I’ve owned. Usually raising them (and not to the point I’m getting flashed by on-coming cars).

    I would bet a lot of complaints could ultimately be traced to poor aiming at the factory. I bet if you asked a 100 random people only 2 have ever adjusted their headlights.

    In fact, I need to check the owner’s manual for my Fusion… maybe they can be adjusted!

    From Automotive News link:

    “But the insurance institute isn’t happy. It says headlights often come off the factory line poorly aimed, which can cause glare and renders the move to brighter LEDs null.”

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I’d bet that well under 1 person per hundred has adjusted or had their headlights adjusted in the last couple of decades. Some of us in the older crowd may have done it back in the day, but not recently.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if your Fusion’s headlights are unadjustable or only adjustable L to R, many newer Fords are that way.

      • 0 avatar
        S197GT

        actually, what i have experienced is most headlights are only adjustable up and down.

        the most recent cars i’ve adjusted:

        2011 Crown Vic
        2005 Grand Cherokee
        2006 Mustang
        2004 Impala
        2000 Z3

        Our CX-9 has a rotary wheel on the IP for three up/down settings (for towing). Wife’s 330i has the adaptive lighting.

        All were only adjustable up and down. I do remember the days of full left/right/up/down… that was a rabbit hole.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    If we could get rid of the lights that appear to twinkle it would be a great start. Also, on a semi-related note, who’s the bright bulb who decided at GM that activating the reverse lights on a parked car which has just been unlocked was a good idea?

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      A good point about GM’s reverse lights. I think this is confusing and potentially dangerous. A few weeks ago, I thought my family and I might have to bolt from a restaurant table because the Malibu (or some such thing) parked just a few feet outside the window shone its reverse lights right in our faces. The car didn’t back through the wall of the restaurant, much to my satisfaction. It was just GM taking an important safety feature and giving it a secondary function that takes away from the primary function.

      Even if the driver’s seat is empty, how do we know he or she didn’t just get out and walk away with the car running in reverse? People do this, especially when they are on medications, deep in thought, tired, or getting old.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Not to worry! Once the Insurance Institute gets its lobbyists in gear, those expensive designer headlights will be out, and something like next-gen sealed beams will be in. Somebody has to stop the Germans from continuing their headlight technology competition before we have dozens of different systems with unobtainable replacement parts.

  • avatar
    turf3

    The elephant in the room, that no one is willing to talk about, is that all the headlights, and the tail lights, are TOO DAMN BRIGHT. All this business about aiming and cutoffs and so on is just eyewash. The lights are TOO DAMN BRIGHT.

    It is clear to me that the people who are so in favor of ever brighter lighting have never gone for a walk in the woods at night. If you take a flashlight, your pupils contract and you can’t see a damn thing. If you just allow your eyes to adjust, you can see far better than you realize.

    But today we have a war of escalation. All the headlights are to bright, so we need to make the tail lights brighter, so now everyone’s eyes are more contracted, so we have to make all the headlights brighter, and now the street lights aren’t bright enough so we make them brighter, and now you can’t see the cyclist so they all put epileptic-seizure-inducing maxi-strobes on the back of their bikes, and so on. Pretty soon you could read the classified ads at midnight with the amount of retina-searing candlepower being used, and you still can’t see squat.

    Here, let’s try an experiment. We’ll put the two of us in a dark location. You, stare at aircraft landing lights for ten minutes. I’ll stay in the dark, not looking at any bright lights. Now turn the lights off and let’s see who can navigate better.

    I drove many many miles on sealed beam headlights back in the 1970s. I never had the least trouble seeing where I was going, or seeing other cars, in the city. The difference is that the total lighting-glare environment was darker. But you could still see just fine. True, high beam performance wasn’t that great, but these days most people spend most of their time in urban and suburban environments, where there’s a street light every 200 or 300 feet. For that matter, if you are driving in a residential area and you can’t see where you’re going with sealed beam low beam headlights, you are driving too damn fast.

    “Fog lights”/”driving lights” are another abomination. Not in their existence; there are good reasons for using them on RARE occasions. But these days I would say fully half the cars I see coming at me are displaying at least FOUR lights, sometimes SIX. It’s like having the freaking Vegas Sands Hotel coming at you down the street. Trust me, you do not need to have the front of your car lit up like you are running the Paris-Dakar rally to be able to see your way down my 20 mph residential street.

    Also no one mentions the painfully bright tail lights so many cars come with. Funny, but when cars had little round tail lights with incandescent bulbs, I never had any trouble seeing the tail lights of the car in front of me. These things need to be toned down. Some of them actually hurt my eyes when they are in front of me at a stoplight with the brake lights on.

    Finally, what is the problem with high beams on all the time? In my four mile commute home on city streets (I am never on a street that does not have a street light every 200-300 feet, and every street has a long line of cars on it, so you cannot possibly mistake where the street is), I typically flash at two to three cars every single day. Is the use of high beams vs. low beams just not taught any more, or are these people just too stupid to be allowed to drive?

    Personally, I would – if I were king of the world – mandate:

    Incandescent sealed beam low beam headlights, only. Glass lenses only.
    Halogen, glass lensed high beams, only.
    No weird light shapes or LED patterns permitted.
    Cut tail light brightness.
    Standardize reverse light operation.
    Severe penalties for use of fog lights when not foggy, driving lights when any oncoming traffic is present, high beams when any oncoming traffic is present.

    • 0 avatar
      S197GT

      i do occasionally see some very bright headlights but it is very rare that they are to the point that they bother me. if they do, i can generally attribute them to obvious aftermarket “upgrades” (it is an older vehicle) or clearly aimed incorrectly (one is ok, the other straight in my eyes).

      now, driving mainly cars, do I sometimes get blinded by some trucks behind me? sure, but that has always happened, since the days of my first car, a fiero, it was like sitting 2″ off the ground!! HIDs have somewhat exacerbated that situation but a flip of the rear-view mirror solves the problem. (and i generally tint the windows of all my vehicles as well)

      i love the bright tail lights; particularly in high fog/heavy rain situations.

      on a very rare occasion i’ll be annoyed by the brightness of some on-coming newer (generally) european vehicle. but pretty rare.

      but i live in an urban area and so there is a lot of ambient light that probably reduces the harshness of HIDs…

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I don’t think taillights in general are too bright. However, I do think the trend to LED taillights does have a downside. The brightness control is too often done by pulsing the LEDs in a way that makes them appear to flicker when seen anywhere but straight in front of the eye. Obviously, we aren’t supposed to stare straight at tail lights while driving, so this becomes a problem. I think certain Cadillacs are the worst I have seen in this regard.

      Some cheaper cars have done the same thing with LED dashboard lighting in the last few years (dim the dash, and it can be seen flickering for the rest of the drive). But I think manufacturers may be catching on and correcting this, based on a couple of new compacts I have driven recently.

    • 0 avatar
      pwrwrench

      Could not have said it better, turf3!
      About 4 decades ago almost all cars and trucks had carburetors. A guy at a repair business noticed that the molded plastic floats in the carbs often absorbed gasoline and then sunk in the bowl causing over rich running, flooding/stalling. After trying various repairs/replacements it was found that the likely culprit was the ‘reformulated’ gasoline. He tried to interest the manufacturers in changing the float material to eliminate the problem and was ignored. Similar appeals to the EPA, NHTSA, etc went nowhere. When I last heard about this in the early 80s a lawsuit was being contemplated which was probably rendered moot by the almost universal shift to fuel injection. Though many of these vehicles are still in use. I recall seeing an ad for a company that would retrofit the older hollow brass floats!
      I see the headlight situation in a similar light, pun intended.
      Most headlights, for many decades, are poorly designed and manufactured, poorly installed, and deteriorate rapidly. With the outer lens/cover getting hazy/scaly.
      This is a huge safety problem.
      Glad someone is finally addressing it, though I do not expect any big changes quickly.
      I recall buying a van in the early 90s with the, then new, custom rectangular 9004 headlights. At night the lights were so awful I was thinking to go out in front of the van with a lit match to see if they were actually on. Later I found a, non USA, grille that worked with the older round headlights. I was going to get some Cibie Z beams, but got in a hurry and bought some halogen 7″ sealed beams from the FLAPS. Those lights work so well, in comparison, they are still in there.
      I aimed the new lights against a wall following the van’s workshop manual. No approaching car has ever flashed high beams to signal me to dim them.
      Although I see more cars these days with high beams on all the time and or aimed too high.
      I think some of this is people staring at phones and other screens with the screen too bright. Their eyes get worn out so they think they can see better at night with high beams, and fog/driving lamps on.

  • avatar
    spamvw

    One addition turf3.

    Have the bloody high beam indicator dim with with the rest of the dash lights. When I get dark adapted, I don’t need to be blinded by that blue light.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Haha, there’s a good point. I have driven a few cars in which I was pretty sure that the light coming out of the HIGH BEAM icon was actually brighter than the reflected light of the high beams themselves!!!

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        On behalf of every oncoming driver you encounter and every driver you follow, thank you to both of you for paying attention to your high beam icon. Too many people get their licenses nowadays not knowing what that thing means or does.

  • avatar
    cheezman88

    I think the biggest hurdles to overcome for headlights are severe weather performance and brightness. The standard halogens on most cars just aren’t enough for pitch black dark interstate highways. And currently I don’t see a single headlight that is able to properly illuminate the road ahead when it’s raining or snowing. It’s as if your lights aren’t even on.

  • avatar
    stevenj

    When are they going to mandate some method of preventing people from driving at night with NO lights on?! I see a half dozen of these every night.


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