Those Blinding Blue Headlights

HID HeadlightsOne of the more frequent vehicle equipment complaints that I receive is about blinding blue headlights. I am told that they are horrendous to an oncoming driver and it is hazardous to be driving because of the glare. Drivers want to take their eyes off the road or look to the side to avoid them. Are they legal?

The situation may be from one of six causes: poor design, a standard high intensity discharge (HID) headlamp, an improper retrofit, a standard light-emitting diode (LED) headlamp, headlamps designed for use on the left-hand side of the road instead of on the right as we drive here, or (most commonly of all) improper aim.

Image of Glaring Blue Headlights

Many Vehicles Have Poor Headlights

To encourage vehicle manufacturers to improve their headlight designs, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has begun to rate vehicles for headlight performance. According to them, headlights are still an afterthought on most vehicles in 2020, with only 6 of the 156 models having good-rated headlights across the board.

History of Headlight Types

Tungsten filament sealed beam headlamps originated in 1940. They were improved by the introduction of the halogen sealed beam in 1962 and the replaceable halogen bulb in 1983. This change allowed for greater high beam intensity.

The next significant improvement was the HID headlamp that used a glass capsule of glowing gas to produce light instead of a heated tungsten filament. The system can be two to three times more efficient at producing light than the tungsten bulb. They produce more light in the blue end of the spectrum compared to the filament bulb which tends more toward the red.

Blue Light is the Problem

It is the blue tendency that bothers drivers (especially older drivers) looking into these lights. Research is finding that the HID lamp does produce more discomfort glare. What's not clearly understood is the physiological mechanism behind discomfort glare (i.e., we don't know why glare hurts). But that's irrelevant to the question at hand; the fact is it hurts.

Bluer light stimulates 46% more discomfort than yellower light of equal intensity.

HID and LED headlamps produce wider beams, so a wider spread of positions in front of those lamps is going to be subject to glare if those drivers' eyes happen to intersect the high-intensity zone of the beam. That's a very common situation. Anyone ahead and to the right of the equipped car will experience some glare, especially if the observer's eyes are at equal or lower height than the headlamps in question.

That's just an unavoidable reality; low beams are low beams because they direct most of their light down and to the right.

LED: The Newest Innovation in Headlights

The current innovation in vehicle headlighting is the LED headlamp.

Discounting the installation of lights that are either not meant for automotive use, eg: aircraft landing lights and non-standard LED lighting purchased on line, we have improper replacements widely available at local merchants. The words "for off road use only" or "check with local authorities before use" are often buried, unnoticed, in the packaging.

Illegal and Dangerous Modifications

Over wattage tungsten filament bulbs were the first end user modification to create excessive glare. Any tungsten filament headlight bulb rated at more than 65W is illegal to use on our highways.

LED and HID capsules made to fit standard headlamp housings are available for purchase. These are illegal for use in British Columbia because they produce even more glare than proper HID lamp systems.

In the HID systems you have a capsule, reflector and lens all designed to work together. Capsules inserted into standard housings and reflectors do not distribute the light properly. This definitely affects oncoming drivers and could prevent proper vision for the driver of the vehicle fitted with them.

The LEDs in sealed units are not removable and the entire assembly must be replaced when they fail.

If you want to learn more about why headlamp modifications are dangerous, visit Daniel Stern Lighting.

Complaints About Headlights

If you have a complaint about headlamp standards, Transport Canada is the government agency responsible.

Solving vehicle lighting problems rests with the BC Government who administer the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations and the local police who are charged with enforcing them.

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I fall into the older category of driver and I do not find the blue lights a distraction.  I have discussed this with a few friends in the same age range and I think the problem is when you see something different most people automatically look.  So what I think is occurring is drivers are looking directly at the blue lights and complaining.  Look towards the edge of the road the same as you do when meeting regular headlights and I think the problem will disappear.

Now what does bother me is the use of the clear or white fog lights.  At one time in B.C. it was against the law to have more than two white lights facing forward when on low beam.  I can remember when vehicles with fog lights had to be amber and I believe it was required to turn off the normal headlights.  Turning off the headlights may have changed with the introduction of amber rear turn signals.

I would like to see the requirement that fog lamps have to be amber brought back in.  When meeting vehicles with fog lamps on it is like driving towards a wall of light.  To make matters worse some people change the bulbs in these foglamps to the point they are more of a driving light than fog. 

I have 2 vehicles equipped with these fog lamps and I find them of no use for most conditions.  They do light up the road directly in front of the vehicle but this is probably less than 5 Meters.  If you hit heavy fog or snow because the regular low beams are still on, the glare is not reduced.

I too dislike those blue lights and brilliant white lights. They make it hard for me to see even the white line on the side in the dark as they glare far too much into my windshield. As I also wear glasses, it becomes even harder to tolerate. I have had them on a vehicle that I have previously owned and always got highbeamed. They were not DOT approved so I had them replaced with the original OEM bulbs.

This same vehicle was equipped with fog lamps. Now coming from a truckers family, I understand the purpose of these lights. When I met a truck or any other vehicle, I turned them off. They were there for me to see the ditches and animals better on long, dark highways. They are not there for decoration to see how many lights you can have on at once. Two headlights, that's it! I don't understand peoples ways of thinking. I live in a cariboo town and all too many drivers out there have all these lights on.  You don't see semi's driving around with all their lights on, because it's illegal. But I have seen them driving without their clearance lights on.....bad

Why are the police not handing out tickets? or warnings? or blurbs in the newspaper about the danger of all these lights? I know I'm not helping matters any when I flash my brights at these people, but they have to know that it is a safety hazard and it is very bothersome.

One more thing.............When it's foggy out, turn your tail lights on too, when it's dawn or dusk (streetlights are on is a good tell tale sign) turn your lights on. There seems to be way too many non-defensive drivers out and about now a days. More needs to be done about the stuff that is getting ignored. Pretty soon we'll be able to run stop signs, run red lights, cut corners, speed through school and park zones, race through the streets, do burn outs on peoples grass..........oh wait, they already do and nothing is done about these either.  Shame on you!!!

There's a driver in my area who has a jacked up truck. Not only does the vehicle have the HID lights but also fog lights with the HID lights too. When I approach there is nothing but a glare, even looking at the side of the road. The lights are definately aimed improperly for the height of the truck. I'll bet the lights are aftermarket probably done when the lifters on the truck were put it without a second thought at re-aiming the lights.

When I was learning to drive I was taught never to flash your brights as you could temporarily blind the oncoming driver. In my opinion it's become the only way to tell a driver that he's blinding you. As an amateur astronomer I know that the best way to avoid temporary blindness is not to look directly at light.

Anyway, I know the gentleman who runs this site (thank you) is a retired traffic enforcement officer, and my next statements could be taken as offensive, which is not my intent. I drive in total about 80K a day at different times of the day, mostly rural highways. I can count on one hand the number of times over the past 3 years I've seen a traffic officer and I honestly think that's part of the problem. People WILL do things that they think they can get away with. I've seen people pass me doing 120, weaving in and out of lanes and for the most part they can get away with it. People drive exclusively in the passing lane doing 60 in an 80 zone. Drivers talk and text on cell phones with impunity.

I'm happy that the RCMP are getting dangerous drugs off the street, but increasingly there are people driving who are scofflaws and putting other people's lives in danger.

Hooray, my drive home at 5:30 is now seeing more daylight!

I often remarked on the same thing when I worked and do so even more now, there just isn't a cop around when you need one! That and the "I'm important and you aren't. I'm in a hurry, get out of my way!" attitude shown by a lot of drivers today.

I wish I knew how to persuade people that it is important to drive safely and within the rules.

I drive a completely stock '07 Honda Civic from Tsawwassen to the vicinity of Canada Place in downtown Vancouver and back for work ... I typically travel Hwy. 17, 17A, 99, 91, Knight St. / Clark Dr., Powell St. & Main St.

For the above commute, I will never buy another standard shift (too much shifting!), two-door (long doors, can't get out of the car in all the smaller parking stalls these days) car that is naturally so low-slung that I have everyone else's lights shining directly into my center windshield-mounted rear view mirror at night ... the glare from oncoming cars with HIDs is bad enough (I can't believe these things are legal!), however, the blinding glare in my rear view mirror from them is the most annoying and distracting ... I have to constantly flip the day / night lever on the mirror to cut down the glare into my eyes at night ... this takes my eyes off the road momentarily and that can bite you bad if it's the wrong second ... I also find that in order to maintain optimum situational awareness, I must flip the mirror back to day mode ASAP in order to be able to instantly assess traffic conditions behind / beside me (leaving the mirror in night mode tends to mask out all but the offending lights ... the details of the vehicle[s] is[/are] lost) ... all this busy work with the damn mirror is me putting me at risk ...

Have there been any MVA trials in B.C. where the glare of HIDs has been identified as a contributing factor in the MVA?

And, I second MythicalMe's observation about the days growing longer in terms of available daylight ... bring on spring / summer!


 ... largely a 'perception' issue eh?

I call b/s ... if and when I crash because I'm blinded by HIDs, it won't be a perception issue, it'll be an ICBC claim ... a situation we shouldn't, and don't need to, tolerate ...

 ... the ADBs (Adaptive Driving Beams) sounds like pie in the sky to me ... the complexity of that kind of system will cost big ... and for the technology to penetrate the market significantly here in Canada ... that will take a decade or more ... ultimately, all the electronic enhancements we see in new vehicles is generally troubling (I won't even get into the hackability aspect of IoT-enabled vehicles) ... all this tech and gadgetry ... for a product that will be recycled or land-filled in 10 to 15, possibly 20 years ...

Many years ago I learned a strategy for dealing with blinding headlights at night. 

When an oncoming vehicles's headlight shine into my eyes. I close my left eyelid and use my right eye to see the roadway.  When that vehicle has passed by my vehicle, I open my left eyelid and close my right eyelid to give that eye a rest from the glare.

Yeah, I first heard of that idea when I went to driving school. It was a while back - the films were on 16mm ...

But, I asked an optical expert about it, and sure enough your pupils do contract independently, in response to light. So closing an eyelid, or even just putting a hand in front of that eye, will help you to continue seeing all the shadow details and the fog line / centreline once you've passed that glaring idiot coming the other way.

This would seem like a great strategy; however, you are then altering your depth of field vision for the benefit of someone else. Still an unsafe practice. I lost vision in one eye, and the doctor forbid me from driving for the same reason until my vision returned.

For sure, if a person becomes monocular then it will take them some time to adjust to the difference in depth of field. Just walking along the sidewalk, they may trip on cracks in the slabs, and steps on stairways can also be a challenge.

So if it's a temporary condition, then it only makes sense to avoid driving until your sight is 'back to normal', hence the doctor's advice.

you are then altering your depth of field vision for the benefit of someone else.

Not so. Sure, your depth of field is temporarily affected by covering one eye, but that's to benefit yourself from remaining night-blinded any longer than the few seconds it takes for the other driver to go by. And by deliberately shifting your gaze to the fog line you mitigate the blinding effect of the oncoming lights on your seeing eye, whilst maintaining your aim of the vehicle as accurately as possible to keep it going in the right direction. All too often (this is human instinct) drivers look right at the oncoming vehicle/lights instead.

I find it's not just oncoming cars, but cars coming up behind me are just as bad. The glare, even in full bright daylight, bounces off the windshield and mirrors - talk about distracted driving, especially when it is a lifted vehicle.

Interesting post.

The other notable change we've seen is the adoption of the European low-beam pattern with its sharp horizontal cutoff.  This has a number of benefits: less light scatter means less glare back to the driver from fog, rain and falling snow; less need to use foglights since the beam lower and flatter; less glare for oncoming motorirsts (in theory); and, easier to aim without no equipment required - if you can change the oil in your car you should be able to adjust the headlights.  

The only negative - overhead roads signs like those on major highways are not illuminated by your headlights.  

My second observation: newer pickups have blindingly bright low beams right from the factory.  I drive cars, not trucks or SUVs.  I have had numerous occasions on busy highways at night where I had one of these trucks following me where I adjusted the outside mirrors as far out as they would go, and where the night setting on the interir mirror was not enough - I physically pointed it up at the headliner. 

The main issues seem to be with taller vehicles.  Cars are rarely an issue for me.  Even JDM imports with left-oriented headlights that pass the inspection process (or where the owner re-isnstalls the OEM lights) are a non-issue.  As a JDM owner myself (with mediocre aftermarket DOT headlights) I notice them right away, but I don't find them a problem.  (The only practical issue is that the driver will have trouble seeing road signs on rural roads at night.)

There is a minimum height standard for headlights that manufacturers must follow.  (This was the reason for pop-up headlights on sports cars in the past.). However, I think there should also be a maximum height, and more design work needs to be done to reduce the glare that these OEM headlights create.

I don’t even know where to start on retina incinerating headlamps and turn signals use, misuse or lack of use.

Really, I’d like the province to get back into the business of safety checking passenger vehicles when newly purchased, every 5 years, every change of ownership and when cited by police. I’d like to see province wide standards set for lighting. Not too dim, not too bright and not suffocating the turn signals as happens with many of the newer vehicles with combined unitized front end lights.

If a manufacturer can’t provide a sensible lighting system for their product, then selling or licensing it in the province should be verboten.

Also, start ticketing the thoughtless morons who drive with high beams inappropriately.

And, incidentally, when did the modern cars start being supplied without turn signals? Or, are drivers just becoming too lazy to use them?

Most new vehicles seem to have far too many lights. Whose silly idea was that to overload the retinas of receiving opposing drivers, all in the sillier name of styling? This something a lot of us have recognized and comment about. It ranks right up there with scattering blue light from a so called advancement for night driving. It is nothing but toxic. Slow down if you need to see better

I have driven many vehicles for the 64 years on this planet,(in many different countries), and as I recall Bosch H4 were the choice of many of us who drove long into the winter night with van loads of kids. They had replacable bulbs, no need to chuck the whole bloody LED unit in the bin when worn out. The big plus were that the Bosch, and probably Cibie too, melted the snow and also had a very nice ditch / verge illuminating angle of light which made much safer night driving. Never once have I killed or injured any animal, but these days being blinded by scattering blue light that distorts the acuity, I fear that unblemished record is in jeopardy. Is there any reason for having sight debilitating lights that ruin the acuity of opposing drivers?

 I would love to have a tape measure with me all the time to casually see if on some of the lifted trucks the maximum 1.37M is exceeded. I would bet my bottom dollar that most cats who sport the iron cross bumpers on their coal rollers are above the limitation and have LED main above the cab, and below the bumper lights. It goes hand in hand with an attitude to tailgate smaller vehicles with a sense of entitlement the big rig breeds, not to mention the certain death to occupants of smaller cars in a collision with the aforesaid, as the lifted truck bottom of bumper or front differetial meet a cars dashboard. Giving a whole new meaning to the name dasboard. Chances are they blinded the poor sod whom they rolled over.

Is there value to this site to bring to the fore the observations of many to actuate a provincial response? Or are we just another bunch of bleating citizens inunciating the gradual erosion of safety?

 Read about as much as the eyes can stand in this article 

Part of the problem with these is that blue is the worst colour for maintaining night vision.

Probably not much of an issue in the modern world though, since the days when you could drive for an hour at night without encountering a car are long gone.

It is also less of a problem since modern vehicles all seem to have dash lights that interfere with night vision, and you are no longer allowed to dim the enough.

The ability to see at a distance is a safety concern, but one overlooked by automobile manufacturers. The use of red lights for illuminating instruments is well known in aviation -- why not in cars?

It's even worse now that I'm older.

One observation... 

anytime I get blinded by a vehicle modified with HID incorrectly (bulbs in the wrong lamps), I display my high beams them in an effort to inform them that there lights are too bright and that they blind me. Unlike a response from somoene who has inadvertantly left their higheams on ( a delayed reaction and then off with the highbeams), those drivers with illegally outfitted HIDs are typically ready to respond to my complaint immediately with an even higher dose of blinding, accident causing, illegal, offensive light; as if they keep there finger on the trigger ready to kill. So, they much get highbeamed all the time, meaning they know there making it hard for other drivers to see.

I once was driving and had a few people highbeam me, even though my highbeams were off. What did I do? I pulled over, got out and looked....oh yea, I was totally blinding oncoming traffic because the trailer I was pulling cause my low beams to point right into their eyes. So I adjusted my headlights and didn't receive another complaint. Do you think these drivers with illegal HIDs ever did that... get out and take a dose of their own offensive and blinding light? Never. Just like the speeders in my neighbourhood are never a pedestrian, forced to walk on the road with speeders due to a lack of sidewalks, and having to be ready to jump into someones lawn when a distracted, speeding driver approaches. 

I think there are only 3 options:

-put enforcement officers out there who know the rules and are ready to enforce them, onces who really care about making the world a safer place

-develope a "check point" type of sign where motorists can pull up to it, and using sensors, it can tell them how much of a jerk they are.... I mean how their lights are too bright or how poorly aimed they are and how to fix the problem

-if you can't beat them, join them. I am goig to equip my vehicles with 10x60" light bars with HID bulbs. Then I will drive around with my legal headlamps on, and anytime I see a vehicle equipped with illegal HID bulbs, I will light them up with all 10 light bars and not release the button until they are safely off the road and can no longer blind the innocent.

Without even fully reading the comments here already I jsut want to put in my 2 cents. I'm a professional tow truck driver, albeit in Red Deer, Alberta, though I drive in BC often and actually have a drivers license here, so my 2 cernts should mean something. Let me say these blinding blue headlights are no small matter. You'd be surprised at how many accidents are actually cuased by blinding headlights. In BC it's especially more dangerous because your vision is already abtructed by lots of rolling hills and trees in the landscape and therefore headlights dont travel that far for this reason so theres no point in really having blue one on at full beam. The one counter argument I can think of is that they help people with poor vision see better at night but this is selffish and I would say that people with poor vision shouldnt be driving anyways.

So if you can figure out this problem in BC I'll be staying updated because I'll be one of the loud voices here in Red Deer trying to put the same regulations in banning bright blue headlights in place.

Cheers and safe driving out there everyone.

It is true that I also now likely fall into the older crowd as well as having migraine history; however, this doe not change years of driving experience. Imagine driving in the fog with your brights on or a heavy snow fall, you just bounce that light back in your face. Having blindingly bright lights really is false comfort to those that have them, and so many I have seen still use overly bright "fog" lights on top. Even to look off to the side, divert the eyes with these vehicles coming at you leaves at least a 30 to 40 second vision loss (retinal burn effect) which is plenty of time for an elk, moose, big horn (heaven forbid you kill another Radium sheep), hitchhiker, et cetera. I for one feel that I have been going on luck thus far. Having them behind you is almost as bad, but at least you can flip the mirror down, and I am one of the fortunate tobhave a collapsable side mirror. However, they illuminate the entire vehicle making vision through the windshield very challenging. Driving is adventerous enough without making it more dangerous with brighter and brighter lights and the blue lights are only part of the issue. A brighter light does not replace rational driving, and if we feel that headlight brightness is going to make us better drivers, I suspect we have some important thinking to do.