Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Cedric Stephens | Bright-light epidemic

Published:Monday | February 24, 2020 | 11:11 AM

Today’s article will shed some light on one of the many epidemics that visit the country’s road system each night.

This problem has been around for many years. It has now grown to such an extent that during last November and December, law-enforcement authorities decided to use some of their limited resources to clamp down on vehicles fitted with prohibited lights.

Over 1,000 traffic tickets were issued to motorists who had unauthorised lights. More than 500 vehicle registration plates were removed due to violations. Some of the vehicles had multicoloured flashing lights. Now, nearly three months later, the contagion continues to spread. Motorists – in ignorance or intentionally – are still violating Sections 40, 41 and 42 of the Road Traffic Act.

Statistics from the Road Safety Unit of the Ministry of Transport for 2011 to 2016 show that most fatal motor vehicle accidents occurred between the hours of 6 p.m. and 12 p.m. Is it fair to infer from this that lighting may have been one of many contributing factors to those events and all the traffic accidents in the absence of data? Yet, there are no indications that the life and non-life insurance industry have put two and two together or, more important, tried to shine a light on a subject where ignorance is probably a factor and provide support to the police? Can information help to change the behaviours of some lawbreakers?

Sections 40 to 42 of the new Road Traffic Act, the RTA, deal with lights, reflectors, and the elimination of glare. It is these parts of the law that the police use to prosecute motorists.

Section 40 prescribes the kinds of lights that are permitted. It says: “every motor vehicle … shall carry- (a) two similar headlamps only (in this Act referred to as obligatory headlamps), one on each side, so constructed and placed as to cast, when lighted, in the direction in which it is proceeding a white light only, sufficiently clear and strong as to afford adequate means of signalling the approach and position of such vehicle; and (b) a lamp on the back and on the right side thereof or the back and right side of the last vehicle attached thereto, so constructed and placed as to exhibit when lighted a red light visible from behind and also a white light sufficiently clear and strong to illuminate the letter and number of the registration plate.”

Separate provisions apply to motorcycles. Subsection (4) speaks to the requirement for parking lights for stationary motor vehicles.

Persistent violations

Multicoloured and flashing lights as well as specially constructed light fixtures with LED or Xenon Units affixed to motor vehicles, other than those that are permitted by the regulations, are clearly in violation of the law.

Section 41 provides some specific criteria that headlamps must meet. “No headlamp shall be used on any motor vehicle unless such lamp is so constructed, fitted, and maintained that:

a) the beam of light emitted therefrom is permanently deflected downwards to such an extent that it is at all times incapable of dazzling any person standing on the same horizontal plane as the vehicle at a greater distance than twenty-five feet from the lamp whose eye level is not less than three feet six inches above that plane; or

b) it can be deflected downwards or both downwards and to the left at the will of the driver in such manner as to render it incapable of dazzling any such person in the circumstances aforesaid; or

c) it can be extinguished by the operation of a device which at the same time causes a beam of light to be emitted from the lamp which complies with paragraph (a); or

d) can be extinguished by the operation of a device which at the same time either deflects the beam of light from another lamp downwards or both downwards and to the left in such manner as to render it incapable of dazzling any such person in the circumstances aforesaid, or brings into or leaves in operation a lamp or lamps (other than the obligatory headlamps) which complies or comply with paragraph (a).”

From my casual observation as a layman in and around Kingston and St Andrew during daylight hours, and occasionally at nights when I am forced to drive, none of the vehicles fitted with extra lighting devices complies with the law.

A lobby group in the United Kingdom has said that “ultra-bright headlights are causing accidents”. A survey there, according to Matt Kimberley, suggests that “65 per cent of people there are ‘regularly dazzled’ by oncoming headlights, with 15 per cent admitting to a near-miss that they blame on dazzling lights. Most say it takes them up to five seconds to get their full sight back, by which time, if they’re driving 60 miles per hour, they can have travelled quarter-mile”.

The headlights of newer-model vehicles are much whiter and brighter than those of older cars. Drivers of the former benefit from the improvements but they create hazards for other drivers.

It is not improbable that sometime in the very near future, some local personal injury will find a way to bring an action against a motorist whose ultra-bright lights caused or contributed to a motor vehicle accident.

In the meantime, kudos are due to the police authorities on their drive to enforce the RTA.

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: aegis@flowja.com