Headlight glare to be investigated by UK government

The UK Government is to commission an independent study into the issue of headlight glare, after research has shown the issue appears to be getting worse.

Following the establishment of a petition by a member of the public after campaigning on the issue by the RAC, the College of Optometrists, Baroness Hayter and others, the government has now responded.

Although tighter tolerances to headlight aiming rules and the introduction of mandatory automatic headlamp levelling are due to come into effect in September 2027, once carmakers have had an opportunity to redesign their products, the Department for Transport will also investigate the issue. 

“The DfT also plans to commission independent research to better understand the root causes of driver glare and identify any further appropriate mitigations,” the government response said.

The news has been welcomed by campaign groups. RAC road safety spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “The fact the Government has listened to drivers’ concerns and heeded our calls to examine the complex issue of headlight glare in more detail marks a real turning point. The topic has undoubtedly struck a chord with motorists up and down the country, with many people contacting us directly to call for something to be done.

“Brighter headlights, while giving drivers a better view of the road ahead, are clearly causing other road users significant problems. As many as nine-in-10 drivers tell us they believe at least some car headlights are too bright, while 14% of drivers aged 65+ say they have stopped driving altogether as a result of headlight glare.”

Factors involved

Automotive supplier Hella believes several factors are involved in driver perceptions of headlight glare and dazzle worsening on UK roads. 

“Firstly, lights are positioned higher on many cars now,” said Dave Clark, Lighting Product and Brand Manager at Hella. “There are more small-SUV and crossover type vehicles, but lights have been moved higher up on many cars anyway to make them less vulnerable to damage in front-end impact accidents.”

A second factor is changing light technology. The brighter white or blue light from xenon bulbs can cause more discomfort than the yellower light from traditional halogen bulbs. Whilst with LED headlights, the beam itself will be much more intense and focused, causing the human eye to react differently. 

“There is a huge amount of technology involved in trying to get high light levels in the right places to help drivers and reduce headlight glare,” said Dave. “LED lights will illuminate a much wider area, particularly on full beam setting because the light output is greater.”

Aftermarket problems with headlight glare

While the investigation, and new regulations, may affect new vehicles, especially those with LED lighting, the aftermarket also has a role to play in reducing headlight glare from oncoming vehicles.

While testing a range of automotive bulbs at its testing facility in Leeds, Ring found a number that were not road legal, but still available for sale to consumers. These bulbs could be contributors to the problem of headlight glare.

Vehicle bulbs used on the exterior of a vehicle must comply to ECE Regulation 37 that details exact specifications such as: light output, minimum and maximum levels, so drivers can see safely, and other road users are not dazzled. 

It is illegal to fit light assemblies that carry their own performance approval numbers with bulbs that are not E approved (1989 Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations). In addition, it is also illegal to stock or offer these bulbs for sale in the UK.

When testing bulbs in the lab, the team use multiple bulbs of the same type from the same brand, to ensure their performance or any issues that occur, are constant, and not just a one off. 

Included in the testing were bulbs supplied by one company which all exceeded the maximum wattage and lumens levels by a considerable margin, another was more than 26% above maximum lumen output, and the wattage was 49% above maximum. At this level, the bulbs could cause overheating to a vehicle’s wiring.

In another instance, one of the bulbs was switched on and, after only a few minutes, the chrome end cap showed signs of deterioration. There were also many incidents of bulbs not complying with ECE Regulation 37, non-conformity which makes the bulb not road legal. 

Impact on garages

“We need to consider the wider impact this issue of bulbs causing headlight glare has on the independent automotive aftermarket,” commented Andy Gratton, Managing Director at Ring Automotive. “Organisations, such as the IAAF, have spent many years working with motor factors and garages to build trust amongst motorists to have their repairs done in the aftermarket, rather than at a main dealer. 

“If motor factors and technicians are selling and/or fitting non-compliant products and are unaware, they risk undermining some of the work done should a road user be penalised for non-compliant lighting in the event of an incident.

“The problem then snowballs, as the garage may the blame the supplying motor factor, the factor in turn, blames the manufacturer that, quite rightly, should be held accountable, but ultimately, it is the industry that is negatively impacted from these poor manufacturing processes and lack of quality control. In the end, we all have a responsibility for ensuring that the road user is safe.

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