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Safety concern over dazzling headlights

Dazzling headlights - RAC

The problem of car headlights dazzling drivers has got worse over the last year, say more than half of regular motorists, a new survey suggests.

Research conducted by the RAC found that the issue of glare – caused a headlight’s beam having a dazzling effect for oncoming traffic – is experienced by an estimated 16.1 million UK drivers, based on 91% of drivers responding saying ‘some’ or ‘most’ car headlights are too bright and 54% of these saying they are dazzled more regularly now than a year ago.

When asked how they are affected by glare, six-in-10 of those affected said they regularly get dazzled by oncoming headlights even though they are dipped, with a similar proportion (60%) being unable to tell if headlights are either dipped or on full beam.

Nearly half (45%) complained they get dazzled by headlights in their rear-view mirror, while a huge 70% believe some lights are so bright they represent an accident risk. In fact official government data shows there are around 300 collisions every year where dazzling headlights are a factor.

Drivers were less clear on the likely causes of glare however. Half (51%) blamed vehicles that sit higher on the road, such as increasingly popular sports utility vehicles (SUVs), for dazzling them although 41% said the problem was not caused by any particular type of vehicle.

Similarly, when it comes to lighting technologies, 55% believe ‘bluer’ xenon or the most modern LED headlights are to blame, but a similar number (51%) are not sure or can’t tell the difference between the types of lights.

Headlight adjustment

The research also found that in some cases drivers themselves might be inadvertently causing glare – either by not adjusting their lights correctly, or by having badly-aligned lights.

Nearly half (47%) of drivers either never adjust their car headlights up or down when carrying different loads, or don’t do it regularly enough – something that is important in avoiding causing other people to suffer from glare as the aim of the headlight beam is affected by the load in the vehicle.

“The dazzling effect of another driver’s headlights isn’t just uncomfortable – in some cases it can be nothing short of dangerous, making us lose sight of the road for a short time,” said the RAC’s Rod Dennis.

“So it’s concerning to see that a greater proportion of drivers have reported problems with glare this year than last year.

“In reality, the issue of glare is a complex one and it’s not as straightforward as saying one type of lightbulb causes more of a dazzling effect than another – there are a range of reasons why a driver might be dazzled, from a slight misalignment of a headlight, the difference in ride height of different vehicles and even individual people’s vision. That explains why not every car headlight appears to be dazzling, with eight-in-10 drivers saying only some cause glare.”

How to combat headlight glare

  • Talk to your optician. If you wear glasses, a coating can be added that can go some way towards making it easier to see when you are faced with car headlights. A quarter (25%) of respondents to the RAC survey wear such glasses
  • Adjust your rear-view mirror more often. Unless your car has a self-dimming rear-view mirror, you can reduce glare from vehicles behind you by doing this – more than half (56%) of drivers who responded to the survey say they do this
  • When changing your car, look for one with a self-dimming rear-view mirror and even darkened glass (sometimes called ‘sunset glass’) when you next change your car. Both can be effective at reducing the bright light that reaches you

Are you dazzling drivers?

  • Check to see if your car automatically levels its headlights depending on the load you are carrying –the vast majority of cars on the road don’t
  • If you don’t have automatically levelling headlights, always manually adjust them depending on the load you are carrying and according to the car’s manual. A single person driving with an empty boot needs a different setting compared to a single person plus a boot-load of luggage, or all five seats occupied and a fully-loaded boot
  • Ask to have the angle of your car’s headlights checked next time you have it serviced to ensure the beam is being directed properly

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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