Is headlamp glare becoming a road-safety hazard?

Headlamp glare and the MOT

Have you been dazzled by headlamp glare recently? Many people have – especially with the very latest vehicles having laser-powered headlamps which could dazzle even on dipped beam. Of course, the car makers are very proud of the searchlight quality of their latest products, trumpeting their contribution to road safety – but what about the poor driver coming from the opposite direction around a corner only to be dazzled completely by a tall 4×4 coming the other way? It is becoming a talking point, a common problem.

A recent RAC survey showed that 91% of people said that “some”, or “most” modern car headlamps are too bright, with 70% thinking that some such headlights are an accident risk.

The blue tint shows this is a laser powered headlamp. The lasers don’t shine directly onto the road but use mirrors and a phosphorous ‘doped’ lens to make white light up to ten times more intense than previous headlamp systems.

Modern headlamps really are brighter; BMW claim their laser headlamps are twice bright as previous systems.  In the USA, originally such high-powered headlamps were banned, but that’s changed since the development of ‘adaptive’ headlamps where the dazzling portion of the beam is dynamically shut off shading drivers likely to be dazzled either by the direct beam, or its intensity in their rear-view mirrors.

For the MOT though there is a problem. There’s no MOT failure for headlamps that whilst aimed correctly, are so bright they will dazzle oncoming drivers, even on dipped beam – perhaps there should be.

Even worse, those modern headlamps cannot be properly checked for aim during an MOT inspection because the equipment MOT garages use to accurately measure the aim of the headlamp beam doesn’t work on the latest high intensity headlamps fitted to modern cars – there’s not even a date for Testing Stations to be required to use such equipment!

Old and inadequate legislation

RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said, “All headlights have to meet specific international standards, which… haven’t been updated since the 1960s and so do not take specific account of newer …”. Here’s a classic case of technology outpacing legislation, and potentially threatening road safety.

84% of drivers think that the Government should “…act to ensure the regulations are updated to remove the possibility of glare being a result of modern technology”.

Lobby the Government

The recent development of high technology headlamp systems using processed high intensity laser light to illuminate the road ahead, whilst developed in the interests of road safety so drivers can see further ahead, is actually having a detrimental effect on safety by dazzling oncoming drivers.

Of course by using a vehicle’s on-board digital camera to detect oncoming cars, and computer controlled system to dynamically ‘shade’ those vehicles from the high intensity laser light, the problem is solved. But what happens when those cars become three years old and subject to an MOT inspection?

As it now stands Testing Stations don’t have the equipment to make sure the software doesn’t have a glitch – hence dazzling oncoming drivers – or even that, perhaps due to the smallest of shunts in a minor accident that the headlamp aim is now off, or the camera detecting oncoming cars is still properly aligned with the aim of the beam.

Drivers concerned about this issue should lobby the Government to ensure that steps are taken to properly check these headlamps during an MOT examination. Contact your MP, or write directly to the current Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps.

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