Seen At 11: Are Brighter Headlights Creating A Dangerous Distraction On The Road?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — If you think headlights are getting brighter, it’s not your imagination.

New bolder, whiter lights are supposed to help drivers see the road better at night, but as CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported from behind the wheel in Mobile 2, they may be creating a dangerous distraction for other drivers.

“It’s almost like looking into the sun,” Michael Fienman said.

That’s what oncoming traffic increasingly looks like these days, thanks to new LED headlights.

“LEDs can be very bright,” AAA’s Robert Sinclair explained.

They draw very little power from the car’s electrical system.

“They can last upwards of 20 years where the old lights lasted between two and five years,” Sinclair explained.

Drivers of oncoming vehicles said they’re literally blinding.

“It’s distracting. It looks like somebody is driving with their brights on,” Michael Fienman said.

Dr. David Kleinman is a Professor of Opthalmology at the University of Rochester’s Flaum Eye Institute, he said the glare from the headlights can make it harder for the eyes to focus.

“The bright illumination can be disabling,” he said.

Drivers may also find it hard to gauge distance between vehicles on dark roads like the Saw Mill River Parkway, especially when LEDs are used in taillights.

It’s a problem often made worse, experts say, by car owners installing the lights after market at the wrong angle and height.

“The second issue is the color of the illumination. Bluer light has an added stress,” Dr. Kleinman said.

California driver Donald Berry spoke to CBS2 through facetime and went so far as to start a national petition to ban what he called ‘blinding headlights.’

“At the very least, the powers that be should be investigating this,” he said.

Berry maintains the lights create a greater potential for accidents.

“I don’t think prior to this, anybody was going, ‘Oh, my headlights aren’t bright enough,” he said.

Director of Operations for Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, Jen Stockburger said all headlights, including most LEDs, that are already on the road must meet federal safety standards.

“That means they have to have a minimum level of brightness for seeing down the road, but they also can’t exceed a maximum level of brightness and glare,” she said.

So what if anything can you do to protect yourself?

Experts said to avert your eyes to the side of the road, and follow the white line until the car with bright headlights has passed.

Wearing glasses with an anti-reflective coating can also help cut down on the glare.

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