Tue | Oct 16, 2018

Garth Rattray | Dimmit, dammit!

Published:Monday | December 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM
The use of high-beam headlights is a source of vexation for columnist Garth Rattray.

I felt certain that I was developing cataracts because now, much more than ever, I find that I'm dazzled by the glare of approaching motor vehicle lights. I was, therefore, very relieved when my ophthalmologist gave me the all-clear in a visit several months ago.

I'm happy that the police are not only cracking down on coloured lights (especially the blue ones), but also stopping drivers with those blinding, illegal LED lights. I hope that they will begin prosecuting drivers with consistent high beams or unfocused lights.

I used to be able to see fairly clearly, even when (regular) high beams approached, but nowadays the (new) extreme glare is sometimes so blinding, it forces me to slow down significantly and look away to the side of the road or concentrate on any visible white line in order to steer clear of possible crashes.

 

SEVERELY AFFECTED

 

The searing, bright blueish-white lights painfully penetrate my eyeballs and I feel as if they burn their way to the back of my brain. Even when the vehicles pass, I see peeny-wallies for a while. I always make sure to clean the windscreen (inside and out), but that doesn't reduce the blinding glare. Sometimes I end up driving behind others who are even more severely affected - they slow to a crawl or stop entirely because of oncoming bright lights.

When I'm not on the North-South Highway and driving among the throng on narrow, rough, two-way, dangerous roads to get to my destination, the blinding lights add additional hazard to an already risky drive.

Many drivers keep on their high beam out of selfishness, ignorance, stupidity, aggression, laziness, forgetfulness or in an attempt to intimidate everyone else on the road. Large/high trucks and buses are major offenders of this dangerous practice. Innumerable others have such badly focused headlights that even their low beams spread all over the place and dazzle all oncoming traffic.

For quite a few years now, I've not seen any attempt by motor vehicle examiners to ascertain how well headlights are focused. Lights are checked for functionality, but there was a time when you had to drive up to a wall and a rough estimate was made of the focus of the headlights.

And, I'm not aware of the traffic police making a special effort to pull people over for driving with blinding lights. I've noticed vigilance regarding malfunctioning lights, but not for people driving with lights that endanger everyone when they dazzle or blind other road users.

I have no cataracts, but I understand that 'light scattering' is an age-related phenomenon that results in older people being dazzled by oncoming lights. So I often ask my young passengers to tell me if they also find the headlights of many oncoming vehicles dazzling. I'm relieved to learn that even very young drivers are sometimes bothered by the bright lights.

Halogen bulbs are still commonly used in motor vehicles, but light-emitting diode (LED) and xenon bulbs are becoming very popular. As one Internet article puts it, "Xenon lights, also known as high-intensity discharge (HID) lights, produce a brighter light than halogen bulbs and with far less heat. The blue-white light emitted by xenon bulbs is so bright, it is notorious for 'blinding' other drivers."

LEDs have the coolest colour temperature, which makes them seem bright-white. Xenon headlights are blueish-white and halogens are yellowish. Xenon (HID) bulbs produce the most light (lumens) and are the best at illuminating the sides of the roads. However, installing aftermarket HID bulbs in headlight lenses manufactured for halogen bulbs results in diffuse projection and is, therefore, illegal in some North American states.

Bright and diffuse light emission, along with out-of-focus lenses and constantly driving with the high beams, is a recipe for disaster. The glare can result in accidents, especially head-on crashes and rear-end collisions. Additionally, frustrated and/or impatient drivers stuck behind those that crawl along (because of the unbearable glare) often take big risks to overtake the slower drivers at whatever cost.

I implore drivers to use low beams mostly and the authorities not to take those glaring headlights lightly. Provide motor vehicle examiners with the tools to assess headlight focus and encourage the constabulary to pull over drivers for out-of-focus headlights or inappropriate use of the high beams.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.