Whale Watching: Blinding Lights and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
A recently forwarded petition sought revision of the federal lighting standard to ban any light that is “blinding, dazzling, distracting or otherwise causes pain and damage to the eyes of onlookers.” I didn’t sign for a variety of reasons, but in a lot of cases, pickup and four-wheel-drive owners are to blame. Just like rolling coal videos got the EPA interested in aftermarket tuners, changing your lights or improperly aiming them just to annoy people or look cool isn’t going to help.
There are already myriad federal specifications and requirements for lighting, and most states specify headlight height of 24 to 54 inches from ground. Granted, to a point of diminishing returns, higher light provides greater visibility in clear weather, but it also penalizes anybody riding in lower vehicles. I can see high lights for plowing, but they’re likely aimed down since most plows don’t spend much time at highway speed.
I’ve got tall and short vehicles with various headlights, all aimed so that I have good vision and they don’t annoy oncoming traffic or those directly in front of me. Exceptions occur when those in front think 20 feet ahead is a good place to slot in at 70 mph, And naturally, when someone approaches me from the opposite direction, hopefully they’re concentrating on the road ahead, rather than my headlights. I’ve had new Raptors behind me and the heavy-throttle nose rise shines LED headlights over my roof, but I don’t look at them in the mirror like some commenters seem to.
I’ve driven lots of cars with automatic-on headlights, but few of them were smart enough to come on low-beam only—if switched, they’ll come on high beam and stay there until the driver heeds the warning light. On many Volvos the headlights are always on, dark or not, but for high-beams you had to manually switch the lights on. Automatic high/low beam switching works, if nobody’s covered the sensor.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has tested all current pickup trucks for headlight performance and only one, the LED low-beam/halogen high-beam with high-beam assist Ridgeline RTL-E scored a “good,” all other Ridgelines scored “poor.” GMC Sierras with LED headlights and Intellibeam scored acceptable, marginal without Intellibeam and Sierra HID were poor. All Titans, regardless of lights, scored marginal. Ram’s base halogen reflectors scored marginal, the projectors on higher trims poor. And everything else, including LED Silverado and LED F-150 with auto high beam, scored poor.
The IIHS’ site has details, but here’s the most important one: IIHS does not adjust headlight aim, though most can be, because “few vehicle owners do and some manufacturers advise consumers not to.” Based only on decades of experience in thousands of vehicles, many with lights not properly aimed at delivery (and certainly not with a payload or trailer on steel-sprung suspension), that alone could skew the results. If IIHS is uncomfortable adjusting headlight aim, maybe they should have a dealer do it!
Do us all a favor and save the off-road lights for off-road, stick to proven light upgrades that work better than they look, dip the highs for oncoming as soon as you can, and keep them all properly aimed. It’ll make life easier, and you’ll see better.
This issue marks the end of an era, as it will be the final Whale Watching. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading these over the past decade as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Before I go, let’s take one quick look back at what was my personal favorite, titled Junkyard Dogs from the September/October 2012 issue. It’s been a great ride!