The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. (NHTSA) may need lightning in a bottle in its current bid to resolve the issue of headlamp glare.
That's because, industry insiders suggest, many motorists have yet to enter the age of headlight enlightenment. And as a result, automakers and suppliers are left to contend with a wide spectrum of variables beyond their control.
Nevertheless, NHTSA is subjecting headlight glare to the cold light of day, having set a Dec. 1 deadline for public comment to:
Learn more about claims and causes of glare.
Determine whether constraints on high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps should be implemented.
Seek information on possible prohibitions against “purposely colored headlamp bulbs.”
NHTSA issued the call in September after collecting nearly 200 complaints about excessively powerful or glaring headlamps — none of which mention crashes, “yet concern about that issue is expressed,” the agency says.
Today, NHTSA's on-line glare docket contains more than 700 comments and responses, most of which zero in like lasers on ride height, fog lamps and HID lamps. Of the latter, Rhode Island residents Tanya and Dennis Glass, claim HID headlamps “are dangerous — more blinding than high beams on regular cars. They should be outlawed before they become the across-the-board standard. … Also, they are ugly.”
Aesthetics aside, is it fair to label HID lamps a hazard? Experts suggest motorists themselves may be contributing to whatever problem exists, drawn to the bluish lights like moths to a flame.
“People complain about HIDs,” acknowledges Florian Dutke, a project design engineer with General Motors Corp., which offers the lamps on Cadillac Seville. “It could be novelty effects. You see a different set of headlamp colors and you are attracted to those lamps, and you look at them longer.”
This might make them seem brighter. But they're not, Mr. Dutke says, disputing as “urban legend” the belief that HID lamps emit three times more light than standard headlamps.
“They start out with three times the amount of light because they're much more efficient,” he explains. “But they still have to put down no more light in certain areas than any other technology.”
Thanks to federal regulations.
But NHTSA wants to explore whether or not, as in Europe, HID lamp installation should be made contingent on automatic aiming and washer/wiper capabilities. Which, again, reflects on driver behavior.
“The majority of people do not adjust their headlamps,” laments Jeffrey D. Mickel, executive vice-president of engineering and development for Guide Corp., largest producer of headlights and turn signals in the U.S.
Vibration from everyday driving will eventually play havoc with headlamp aim — a factor exaggerated for aftermarket products such as fog lamps, Mr. Mickel says. And don't get him started on keeping those lenses clean.
“We take a lot of care in trying to understand where all the light's going,” he says. “If you get something on the lens, that will cause certain parts of the light to bounce off and become uncontrolled and cause glare.”
A clean windshield also goes far, adds Mr. Dutke.
So much for oncoming glare. What about the kind that blinds when dissimilar vehicles are back to front? With a view to prevent rear-view mirror distraction, 54 ins. (137 cm) is the maximum headlamp mounting height NHTSA allows. Is this too high?
Says Mr. Dutke: “There's an industry information report that is suggesting that 35 (ins./90 cm), or something around there, is something we should be gravitating to. And that's a point of discussion because that would affect how we engineer the front end of our trucks and sport/utilities.”
Is there a ray of hope anywhere for the short-term? Ask Daniel Karpen, an engineer and inventor based in Huntington, NY.
He holds patents on an auto lamp and rear-view mirror that are infused with neodymium oxide. The resulting blue-tinged glass filters out yellow light and, he claims, a significant amount of glare.
“I have 'em on a Dodge Aries,” he says. “When I drive in high beam, nobody flashes back at me.”
But the scientific jury is out on the correlation between yellow light and glare.
There is confidence in the industry that a breakthrough will be made within 10 years. Meanwhile, Mr. Mickel says, no crystal ball is needed to come up with an immediate remedy. “Keep 'em clean and aimed,” he says of headlamps.
The industry's challenge, adds Mr. Dutke, is providing adequate light to the driver behind the wheel, without offending someone headed the opposite way. “That's a tough balance.”