Has the UK stalled with its progressivism when it comes to LED bulbs?

In this guest blog, Ring Automotive’s Marketing Director, Henry Bisson, discusses the new LED bulbs law change in Ireland and how it impacts the UK automotive industry.

LED Bulbs by Henry Bisson

In the UK, it is largely illegal to fit LED retrofit bulbs to a vehicle that will be driven on a public highway, as they are deemed for off road use only. The exception to this being pre-1986 classic cars and single source headlamp vehicles, like motorbikes.

LED retrofit bulbs should not be confused with LED lights that are now the standard lights on many new vehicles. This LED technology has been homologated with the lamp unit as a single piece for which there is no replaceable part. This means that motorists have seen the rise of LED technology and seen the benefits, but only when the car comes with LED source headlamps. When fitting LED bulbs retrospectively into vehicles that do not have a specific lamp unit, this can cause misalignment, glare and can be dangerous, as this will impact other road users and may also damage the lamp unit.

In Europe, the majority of LED bulbs are either illegal or for off road use only. However, OSRAM has pioneered new LED technology that has gained legal approval for specific vehicles where their LED bulbs work with that vehicle’s headlamp system.

Across Europe, 25 countries have given OSRAM approval to have its innovative NIGHTBREAKER LED bulbs fitted to specific vehicle types.

So, while we like to think we are ahead in terms of innovation, especially when it comes to the automotive industry, and there are many instances where the UK has pioneered the way for vehicles, our neighbours in Europe have been enjoying road legal LED replacement bulbs for some time.

Due the circumstances of the market, this meant only Left-Hand Drive vehicles were approved. However, Ring’s parent company, OSRAM, who were the first company to offer street legal LED retrofit lamps in Germany and several other EU nations, is now offering the same technology to Right Hand Drive markets, such as Ireland. While this is exciting and very much supported from both Ring and OSRAM, it has also started a discussion on why Ireland has approved LED lighting on vehicles, but the UK still has not.

Benefits of road legal LED bulbs

For drivers in the EU, and that now includes Ireland, who have some specific vehicles that have been approved to use OSRAM’s LED retrofit bulbs, the benefit is a light output that is up to 230% brighter than standard halogens, helping motorists see better and give them more confidence on the road when driving at night.

OSRAM’s range of NIGHTBREAKER LEDs that are deemed road legal also have a construction that is better at withstanding vibrations, such as from potholes, meaning a 5x longer life. These bulbs have 6000K colour temperature, which is closer to daylight and so reduces eye strain and makes driving safer. It also has a 5x longer life, with a four-year OSRAM guarantee, meaning that drivers will need to change their bulbs less often.

However, as is typical in these situations, there will be cheaper and therefore, lower quality, LED bulbs on offer, which must be tackled. If a product a cheaper, there is usually a reason behind this price, often it equates to lower quality materials being used or is a reflection in the lower level of investment in the correct quality monitoring and test equipment. However, with a product as safety crucial as a bulb, it is best to spend slightly more, invest in a premium quality brand and be reassured the product will work perfectly and not fail within a few uses.

Will the UK catch up?

The desire to replicate LED light units and their light output has resulted in an explosion in LED bulb sales. In the UK, all of these bulbs will be illegal for use on the road, but the majority will be used on UK roads, potentially causing glare, as the bulb has not been designed to be road legal.

So, the question has to be asked: “If in the UK, there is the technology for a road legal LED bulb, why can’t we retrofit them?” Why cannot we have LED bulbs approved for use on vehicles that will be individually tested and approved. If they are compatible with the vehicle and the light output meets the strict regulations in place to ensure this lighting is correctly installed, the UK market should be able to take advantage of this new opportunity, just as many other countries have successfully done.

It will also provide clarity on what LEDs can be fitted to a vehicle, hopefully reducing the amount of poor-quality LED bulbs fitted to cars that are menace to other road users.

It should be as simple as:

  • Do you want to fit LED bulbs? – Yes
  • Is your car approved to work with OSRAM NIGHTBREAKER LEDs? – Yes

Then you are ok to fit OSRAM NIGHTBREAKER LEDs and be road legal.

What is next?

So, we need an open discussion in the UK about the benefits of LED lighting, how we can effectively bring this technology to every driver in the UK, and finally catch up with our European counterparts.

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