Overdriving Low Beam Headlights

headlightsHave you ever given any thought to how far you can see at night as you are driving along down the highway? High beam headlights seem to overpower the dark, but there are a lot of situations where we are limited to using just the low beams. I was required to calculate the safe speed using only low beam headlights at a seminar and I was surprised at the result.

You Start at a Disadvantage

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that most headlight systems do not perform well. For the 2022 model year about 40 percent of the systems tested are rated marginal or poor because of inadequate visibility, excessive glare from low beams for oncoming drivers, or both.

Yes, the IIHS is an American organization but remember that Canada pretty much rubber stamps the American standards and calls them ours.

How Far Can You See on Low Beam?

Most drivers can see a dark object at night with low beam headlamps at a distance of 25 metres. The sight distance may be greater with some of the better quality systems.

The average perception and reaction time for a driver who is paying attention is about a second and a half.

Using these facts, the result is a speed about 40 kilometres per hour. If you travel any faster or don't pay full attention, you will collide with the object before stopping.

Some Things are Difficult to See

Dark objects such as pedestrians and deer are commonly found on the roads when we travel at night. Granted, there is other light to see by in town, but out of town approaching and passing other vehicles we are hurtling along at 80 and 90 km/h or more, and using only the low beams.

This seems to be a compelling reason to be a little more careful with our speed at night to me.

Lighting Maintenance

Now consider what could happen if one of your headlights were not working, or that both were so coated with dirt from winter driving that the full light output was not available. Complaints about vehicles with only one headlight are common and one only has to observe and count to see that this is true.

For your own safety it is well worth the time and money to keep your headlights clean and in proper working order.

Learn More

Here are some "bright" ideas for driving at night.

I had to give up night driving because I would not drive faster than I was comfortable seeing ahead, which meant I would be driving considerably slower than the traffic. Drivers behind me would be irate, flashing lights, blowing horns etc.If I could pull over to let them pass i would but at times those spots are non existent or few and far between. If I could use high beam the distance was increased so I could drive faster- difficult to rely on high beam use on a busy two way road/ highway though.

I won't mention much about DRL's as I'm sure our moderator is tired of my rants. Today I'll just mention Kenworth with their amber DRL which are completely worthless. You can see the clearance lights before you spot their meager attempt at DRL.

Transport Canada is a waste of money. Canada should adopt European regulations. I would love to have a vehicle equipped with adaptive headlights. With these you do not have to switch between high and low beam as the headlight technology cuts the glare for approaching drivers and those that you are following yet allowing one to still have the visibility of being on high beams. I have heard the U.S. is now allowing them.

As for the limitations of low beams until recently my concern was the limitation of high beams. Recently I installed one of those LED light bars and for the open highway you can't beat them. It's the difference of night and day.

I have written numerous letters to Transport Canada asking them to consider for Canadian vehicles to require headlight washers, all marker lights to go on with the DRL, adopt European headlight standards yet thirty years later nothing has changed.

Why is it a major safety factor of all vehicles is never checked? I've known people that have been ticketed for seatbelt infractions yet nothing was said of their burnt out lights. It just does not make sense to me.

PS didn't you post the same article several years back? I seem to remember something along the same lines but do not see any earlier replies.

Yes, this is the 2010 article re-written to include some updated information. You can usually identify these if they have comments as the dates on the comments remain the same while the article date is newer.