/ Motoring

Are modern car headlights just too bright?

The move to LEDs and even lasers has seen car headlights illuminate the road ahead better than ever before, helping to identify potential hazards at night. But are dazzlingly bright lights a danger to other road users?

Like all areas of car technology, headlights have come a long way over the past couple of decades. Traditional light bulbs are giving way to LEDs, which shouldn’t need replacing and give car designers the freedom to create striking designs without being limited by boxy headlamps.

And if you’ve ever had the misfortune of having a large SUV bearing down on you at night or had a car crest a hill in front of you, you’ll know modern car lights are also getting a lot brighter.

Audi and BMW’s laser lights

Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of luxury German cars, where seemingly a game of headlight one-upmanship has led to both Audi and BMW deploying full laser headlights on their most rarefied models.

The claim is that they light up the road with bright white light at distances other headlights simply can’t reach. Their illumination is typically controlled by the on-board computer, with full retina-searing mode used only when it detects no other cars in front of you.

More tech, more problems

This type of ‘auto high-beam’ tech isn’t new and usually does a good job dimming the headlights when it detects those of oncoming cars, but it’s not so good for pedestrians, who don’t tend to have their own headlights. And the effect can be blinding.

What’s more, as we know, tech has a propensity to fail as a car ages. How many times have you felt a mis-aligned Xenon headlight piercing into your soul as you pass an oncoming car? In some cases, it’ll simply be due to the car’s self-leveling system failing.

As you might expect, this constitutes an MOT failure, often requiring an expensive replacement. We shudder to think what the cost of replacing a set of laser lights would be.

Does the brightness of other cars' headlamps make it difficult for you to drive at night?
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Have you been dazzled by oncoming headlights or experienced expensive repairs to your car’s high-end lights? Or is this a small price to pay for having a brighter view of the road ahead? Have your say below.

Maureen Brown says:
10 February 2022

Does anyone know of a genuin e make of night driving glasses which would stop this glare?

And if so would they be any good against the full glare of a setting or rising sun? If I get caught unexpectedly I have to brake whilst I get my bearings (Just as I sometimes have to at night).

Robert Edwards says:
17 February 2022

Glare comes from mostly from the blue part of the spectrum. So any yellow-tinted glasses help: you can buy them in hardware shops as safety glasses.
For the same reason the problem with modern headlights is more that they are TOO BLUE than too bright. If the same power was put into yellowish LEDs (i.e. lower colour temperature) , the driver would see better and oncoming drivers would be much less dazzled.
Furthermore, it is the fashion to reduce the size of the reflector, so spreading the light over a smaller area and making a smaller. brighter, spot to sear the retina of oncoming drivers.

Yes. Glare is caused mostly by the blue part of the spectrum (because the higher-energy photons damage your retina). Any yellow-tinted lens reduces blue light and lets the rest through. You can buy yellow-tinted safety glasses at hardware shops or on-line. I find they reduce eye strain even during the daytime driving.

Mohammed Patel says:
12 April 2022

I wear yellow lens night driving glasses over my normal glasses.
Amazon, Ebay etc.

Many modern headlights are TOO BLUE. It is blue light that damages the retina and causes glare. We could tolerate much more intense oncoming headlights if the colour temperature of LEDs was limited to, say, 3000K.
Furthermore, there is a fashion to make the reflectors smaller. This concentrates the light into a smaller, brighter, spot to sear the retina of oncoming drivers.
So there should be a limit on lumens per cm2 of headlight area, and another limit on the blue light content.

Robert, the brightness (luminance in cd/m2) of a headlight can be no greater than that of the light source. The purpose of the reflector and/or lens is to reflect more images of the light source in the direction where more intensity is required; each image occupies a separate area of the lens or reflector. It may well be that separating the images over a larger area, rather than having them close together, would be a bit less glaring but given the limited range of sizes of headlights and the distance from the eye I doubt that would be a significant effect.

However, I’d expect such considerations to be looked at by the standards committee if their is sufficient evidence that the current limitations on intensity distribution are in need of investigation with the use of LED and similar high luminance sources.

I suspect HID (Xenon) lamps are stiller intrinsically higher luminance than LEDS but the latter might not be far off with the rapid improvements made over recent years. I’ll dig around to see what I can find.

Misplaced post deleted.

I agree, Wavechange.

There is an interesting article on this in today’s Daily Telegraph. I am not providing a link because it will probably only be accessible to subscribers to the website.

Thanks John. I did manage to read the document, so others might too: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cars/advice/problem-blinding-car-headlights-can-do/

The more I read the more obvious that proper investigation is needed.

@daljinder-nagra – Hi Daljinder – There are some strong feelings about modern high intensity headlights and there are also comments about other vehicle lighting, especially LED brake lights. Please could we have some feedback from Which? I suspect that the topic would attract considerable interest as an article in Which? magazine.

I would really like to know why it is considered beneficial to have high intensity dipped headlights. Main beam headlights should only be used where other drivers are unlikely to be affected, so I am less concerned, but high intensity dipped headlights can make life unpleasant for others (not just drivers), particularly in built-up areas.

“High intensity” is only an issue if emitted towards the eye; the restrictions on the dipped beam intensity distribution imposed by the standard should prevent this. If the standard needs amending that is the course of action to take. That can be taken up with the standards committee, through UNECE I believe. Which? could discuss this with them.

Malcolm – I have been looking at which dipped headlights I find irritating and confirmed that it is the bright white ones rather that the more yellow halogen ones. I cannot remember having a problem with the latter unless they have been misaligned.

Clearly some people are affected more than others but I believe there is enough evidence here and elsewhere of what affects some people to the extent that they do not drive at night because of dazzle. I don’t believe we have to rely on the deliberations of the standards committee to investigate the problem, and that is my personal opinion.

““High intensity” is only an issue if emitted towards the eye; the restrictions on the dipped beam intensity distribution imposed by the standard should prevent this.” Whatever the standard should prevent, it does not seem to be working for me and I suspect other contributors to the Conversation.

The point about the standards committee is that is where potential changes will be investigated and, if necessary, made.

I have seen no problems, other than misaligned headlights, whether LED, Xenon or other. But then I don’t have the beginnings of cataracts, a visual degeneration that does affect many older people without them knowing (until the visit their optician).

Vision is a very widely researched topic so I have confidence that the experts will address this properly if a widespread problem is determined. There is a compromise to be achieved between providing good visibility to a driver and disability to an oncoming car. Distinguishing between discomfort and disability is necessary, as I have posted before.

The fact that you see no problems with dazzle is irrelevant when many others do. I would like to see independent investigation and not leave it up to the standards committee.

It is no less relevant than other comments. 🙂 Just a statement of fact of my experience. Convos are places for all points of view; rejecting those comments that are contrary to an opinion that is held does not seem in the spirit of a reasoned debate.

I hope the difference between discomfort glare and disability glare is understood.

Standards committees consist of experts in the various fields. As they are responsible for amending standards I expect they would arrange what investigations are believed necessary. What do you have against them?

Have the standards committees carried out public consultation and published the results? That might provide information we could discuss.

Dazzle caused by high intensity dipped headlights is nothing new but the problem has not been addressed. As John mentioned earlier there is an article in the Telegraph to add to the collection of reports that a problem exists.

I hope that Which? will look into the issue.

The Telegraph article, like all the others I have seen, simply repeats the RAC article.

I have no idea what the standards committee are doing. Perhaps Which? would ask.

If there is a problem then, as I said very early in this Convo, and have repeated, then I would expect the current standard to be reviewed. This is the procedure with most standards.

Perhaps the RAC, who raised this, should be asked what action they have taken and whether they have discussed this with motoring organisations in other countries.

I would add that compact and sub-compact cars have a particular issue here, where a very low body line puts the driver right in the (wrong) sweet spot for any following high-intensity headlights.

What about putting a small light corner reflector in the rear window of cars that sends the incoming light straight back to the offending headlight – forcing it to dip even lower?

It may be discomforting, it may make life more difficult for some older drivers with deteriorating eyesight who will anyway have to stop driving sooner or later. But where is the evidence that these headlights are actually dangerous as has been stated ad nauseum? In other words, let’s see some proof that these headlights actually cause more accidents than they prevent, instead of a “debate” guaranteed to generate the response that Which? intended without any evidence to support it.

It is scientifically proven that people are very poor at judging risk objectively. Otherwise, no one would be scared of flying, unless they are even more scared of the car journey to the airport. And no one in their right mind would fly in a helicopter on a pleasure trip.

My biggest problem is not oncoming cars with correctly set headlights – however bright; I just ease off until they are passed – but inappropriately dressed pedestrians, and a few cyclists with no lights at all, on dark roads with no oncoming traffic. And let’s all remember that hitting a pedestrian or cyclist is far more life threatening to them, than a head on collission between two vehicles bouncing over speed humps as 20 mph.

Em, I was toying with the thought of making a similar point but wary of having such a comment dismissed as irrelevant. It can be a little dispiriting when you post information, opinion, comments that do not always wholeheartedly agree with the theme of the intro, especially when having some knowledge of vision and lighting.

A real problem needs to be properly demonstrated. There are scientific methods to do this. If a problem is shown to exist then it needs tackling scientifically and the outcome embodied in a revised standard. Our eyes are very versatile and designed to cope with extremes, adapting rapidly and coping with extremes of natural light. Balancing the amount of light needed to drive safely at a sensible speed against the effect of that light on others is a compromise – any bright light source against a dark background can be uncomfortable. But it should be such as to not temporarily disable drivers with an accepted level of vision.

LEDs provide a better light for the drivers of vehicles who have them – this is a major safety benefit for all.

LED beams are better controlled, with mandatory automatic self-levelling and often functionality to selectively dip areas where there are other road users.

they also last longer, so there is less of an issue with cars running around with missing headlights, because the drivers don’t want to spend the money on getting them fixed.

Previous research has revealed that many people who find LEDs dazzling are actually referring to aftermarket replacement LED/Xenon bulbs that have been fitted to already badly-adjusted halogen lights.

Lights can only really dazzle you if you look straight at them. If people find LEDS too dazzling, don’t look at them – look beyond them. Looking at the lights themselves doesn’t help – even halogens can dazzle if you look straight at them.

It’s not that anybody is purposely looking straight at them, if a car comes into view up ahead you can’t look away as the car is in your line of view of the road you are driving along. And when you look in your rear view mirror, there’s not much scope for looking anywhere else. They are also a distraction to my peripheral vision rather than directly looking into them.

I’ve experienced a lot more ‘blinding instances’ from cars with LED headlights whilst driving this winter. I assume these instances are due to them not working correctly as it’s roughly only 1 car in 10 cars with LED lights that seem to cause this problem. It can happen when they are coming around bends, driving over a hump in the road, coming into view from a distance in front and close up from behind in the rear view mirror. What might be safer for the driver of these vehicles with regards to a better driving view could well be more dangerous for the driving experiencing the blinding.

@gmartin, Hello George. Given all the comments, information and proposals that have been made on this topic, raised by Which?, what are they now going to do?

These experiences will help Daljinder form the basis of any future investigation, should the Cars team wish to and be able to take it up. I will ask him to drop by with his thoughts.

I do not know if the problem is the brightness of the modern LED or other headlights, or if there are more cars on the road with poorly aligned headlights. I do notice that I feel dazzled more frequently by cars following me than I used to be – I am not sure if that is due to poorly adjusted lights or drivers keeping them on high-beam.
One definite downside of brighter headlights that I have observed, is that often I cannot easily see the turn-indicators . Some manufacturers seem to have made headlights much brighter and left turn indicators at the same level as before, or even made them smaller and less distinct from the headlight.

I have been looking more closely at headlights than I used to, as a result of this Convo. I am not bothered at night by most vehicles, including those traversing road humps or other gradients like hump-back bridges. Those that are bothersome generally have headlights clearly misaligned – often apparent because only one is affected.

I have also observed my own headlights that are well-aligned. They give good distance vision when on main beam. When on dip there is a very apparent cut-off – a clear reduction in the illuminance – above the beam that is well below the point on a car I follow where it would cause distraction in their mirrors. Nor am I flashed by an oncoming vehicle, a sure indication that my lights are causing a problem.

Many cars these days have automatic headlight dipping; I wonder whether some do not dip quickly enough. They will not, of course, operate automatically in response to approaching pedestrians or cyclists, as far as I know.

Headlight light distributions are specified internationally. The use of HID, Laser and LED sources is international. If there is something fundamentally wrong then it will be widely reported in all countries that require the same standards to be applied. What do we know about problems in these other countries?

Malcolm — Cars sold into the UK market must comply with the relevant international standards, but, so far as you are aware, is there any reason why the UK cannot adopt more advanced technical standards and apply them to all cars sold in this country? A possible question is whether that would be in breach of our obligations under the international standards agreement. Obviously it would increase the manufacturing complexity and therefore the cost of vehicles, including of those manufactured in the UK since export versions would need to continue to comply with international standards.

If the standard is shown to be deficient then it should be revised for all appropriate countries. I asked for that to be considered at the beginning of this Convo.

Simply asking people whether they find headlights “too bright” is a very open question that needs more rigorous analysis, both to determine what the problem is and what can be done. As I have said before there is a balance between the headlights providing adequate visibility in specified conditions and their effect on other drivers. That balance may need reviewing but, again as. have said, the key angular intensities specified have not, as far as I am aware, changed for very many years; they are absolute values, not dependent on the output of the light sources.

We’ve had HID headlights for over 20 years, LEDs for 10, so why is this topic only now being raised? Is part of the problem misalignment, non-compliant retrofits, reports from people with deteriorated eyesight, or a fundamental problem when the standard is used with higher-output sources?

As for setting different standards in the UK that would require a technical evaluation to determine the basis of the UK standard and manufacturing UK spec headlights. If that were necessary for the UK I would suggest it would be equally necessary in other countries.

If there were a general problem, one simple solution might be to depress the aim of all LED, HID, laser headlights by a couple of degrees or so. That would still require proper research and evaluation to determine by how much and why it is necessary. We will never please everyone.

Thank you, Malcolm. I agree there would have to be a proper evaluation and research process before anything could be changed and that any amendment of international standards would take a considerable period of time. I suppose we must presume that the manufacturers are compliance-testing their own output before exposing the vehicles for sale.

That is a fair presumption, John. Just as any reputable manufacturers put properly evaluated products onto the market.

”Are modern car headlights too bright? The move to LEDs and even lasers has seen car headlights illuminate the road ahead better than ever before, helping to identify potential hazards at night. But are dazzlingly bright headlights a danger to other road users? And does the brightness of other cars’ headlights make it difficult for you to drive at night?

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2022/04/which-car-headlight-quiz/ – Which?

Headlights are only “dazzlingly bright” if the intensity reaching the oncoming drivers eye is excessive, which may be due to badly adjusted headlights, headlights incorrectly retrofitted with HID bulbs, or if the standard for the dipped headlight light distribution needs modifying. Until we know where the problem, if there is one, lies we should not describe all LED and HID headlights as generally “dazzlingly bright”. Simply using LED and HID light sources does not make them such if the light distribution is properly controlled.

The brightness and dazzle of these headlights is more than annoying, it’s dangerous. It makes it near impossible to see anything other than the lights, you can’t see what’s up ahead or on the pavement. Hazard awareness and the ability to react in time are seriously compromised. I’ve previously had to stop, for safety, in the road until a car with super bright lights has passed, as I could not see anything else it would have been dangerous for me to continue moving.

Super bright headlights aren’t just annoying, they’re dangerous. They make it near impossible to see anything other than the lights. Hazard awareness and the ability to react in time are sevely compromised as you can’t see what’s in front of you on the road, pavements or junctions.

Sarah WESTON says:
12 April 2022

These bright headlights are one of the key reasons given for collisions with the animals on the New Forest – the drivers say that they were blinded by an oncoming car and didn’t see the animals in the road. Still no excuse – people should drive to the conditions.

Mick Emms says:
12 April 2022

No need for these eye burning lights. I have Xenon lights which are plenty bright enough

Liam Hunt says:
12 April 2022

Yes, Too many are too blue – and too intense. Many times I’ve been distracted by what appears to be blue flickering and assumed its an emergency vehicle approaching the area. Also on one occasion at a dark roundabout looking to the right hand side, caused what i can only describe as sudden dazzle / everything going black. Took a about 5-10 seconds to re-adjust, and had ‘yellow’ spots every time I blinked for the next few mins.

Mel says:
12 April 2022

I hate driving at night not only because of glare, but because of shadows. My night time vision is not good out of town. The lights of emergency vehicles I find incredibly distracting due to their brightness and glare. I feel they are dangerous and unnecessarily bright

James says:
13 April 2022

The old rating of car light bulb, Watts, needs to be replaced with a maximum brightness in lumens for all new cars. There are so many new led headlights that are too bright to the point an oncoming driver can barely see the road. This coupled with the self dipping lights, means you are temporarily blinded before the car realises there is something else coming the other way. Its considerably worse on country roads and makes night driving dangerous.

I ride a mobility scooter and I see cars coming from a long way away. I often wonder if they have an effect on other drivers by lighting up all the road, on both sides when older headlights mainly lit up the side of the road the driver was on.
The light they emit, IMO, is far too bright and will distract drivers of oncoming vehicles even if both vehicles have the same lights.

A Klier says:
13 April 2022

The use of modern car LED / laser lights, especially headlights are a dangerous distraction for on-coming drivers, even in day time. The lights are too focused at too high a level causing on-coming drivers to look away from the road, this could lead to an accident with others including pedestrians. These lights do not function as effectively in fog, mist or other diminished light as the conventical Yellow tint lights.

David says:
24 April 2022

Just a thought, and might not be too popular but it might be interesting to know whether the people that think HiD/LED headlamps are too bright or dazzling actually have them on their vehicle?
I’ll say no more…..

Imker says:
4 February 2022

What’s this got to do with the brightness of headlights?

Imker – There is a poll at the top of the Introduction to this Conversation with the question “Where are you looking to reduce your spending the most in 2022?“. It lists a number of areas of expenditure and invites readers “to tell us in the comments” if there is something else that they wish to suggest. Hence there will be comments here that appear to be irrelevant to the topic but it is not the commenter’s fault. They are merely following Which?’s instructions.

I find that around dusk, when the visibility may still be 200 meters or more, many put on dipped lights which mask the car, van or lorry coming towards you; all you can see are the lights. At such a time of day I suggest it is better to use sidelights rather than dipped headlights because the driver’s pupils will contract, even with modern, bright, dipped headlights, leading to an unclear picture of what’s ahead. Of course it soon becomes necessary to use dipped beams.

Hildebrand says:
12 April 2022

Pedestrians and cyclists, even those wearing dayglo jerkins, may as well be wearing black against a wall of oncoming headlights.
I used to enjoy walking after dark, but around here my eyes can’t get used to the dark because of dazzling car lights rounding corners every few seconds. I can’t see trip-hazard uneven pavements or dogmuck!