The proliferation of LED headlights has increased glare, according to...

The proliferation of LED headlights has increased glare, according to some drivers. Vehicles on Medford Avenue in Patchogue on Friday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Paramedic Brian Anderson logs more than 150 miles during an emergency work shift crisscrossing Long Island roads and beyond. When faced with bright headlight glare from LEDs, he said drivers have little choice but to flick their eyes to the side of the road or move over.

“With the blinding lights, whether in front of you or behind you, it can distract you and it causes you to potentially not see something in the roadway,” said Anderson, a Suffolk County resident.

LED headlamps on newer vehicles are hailed for their sleek appearance, durability and energy efficiency. As the lights have become more prevalent, drivers and lighting experts are calling attention to glare and potential safety concerns. In the most extreme examples, some frustrated motorists said they now avoid driving at night.

Eyes are more sensitive to the bluer and brighter-looking headlights that are replacing traditional lights, lighting experts said. First rolled out in the mid-2000s, LEDs — light emitting diodes — for low beams were in about 86% of 2023 model vehicles tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, spokesman Joe Young said.

Even if they have the same light output as halogen lighting, which tends to be more yellowish, LED lights can make other drivers uncomfortable, said John Bullough, an Albany-based senior scientist and program director of the Light and Health Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“They're going to be blinking, squinting, looking away and possibly not looking where they should be looking to see things that they might need to see to avoid a collision,” Bullough said.

While the lights will make the periphery of the road look brighter, he said the overall benefit is small.

“Just because it looks brighter doesn't necessarily mean that things are more visible,” Bullough said.

John Pizzuto, a Brooklyn resident, said others' LED headlights have made it harder for him to see the road. He tries to avoid expressways, but when he gets on them, he stays in the middle lane to avoid glare from oncoming traffic.

“It’s an assault. It seems to be getting worse and worse," said Pizzuto, who signed a petition to ban LEDs created by a national advocacy group, the Soft Lights Foundation. "Now headlights are as bright as spotlights and it’s magnified because it’s not the occasional car or SUV, but it’s so popular you get it coming at you and coming from behind. It’s almost like your vision is impaired.”

Compared with 2018, glare increasingly has been listed as a contributing factor in Long Island car crashes. Glare was a factor in 749 crashes last year, up 28% compared with 2018, when there were 584 crashes linked to glare, according to data kept by the Albany-based Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research. The data doesn't specifically track whether LED lights are the cause.

Experts said three factors could be contributing to glare being experienced from LED lights: aftermarket lights that are not approved for use, a lack of state regulations that monitor misaligned lights, and more pickups and SUVs with higher-positioned lights that shine into a driver’s sight line.

Several lighting and medical experts, including Bullough, said the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which are regulations that automakers must adhere to, should be reassessed. Standards for automobile lighting were created in the 1920s based on incandescent bulbs, which had little or no blue. 

“We should definitely think about defining light that includes more of this blue sensitivity,” Bullough said, adding that LED headlights can be designed to be warmer in color so they do not contain as much blue. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in an email that it establishes safety standards for headlights and other equipment to reduce crashes and injuries, and its lighting standard “continues to limit the amount of glare directed toward oncoming and preceding traffic.”

In a statement, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing major automakers, said the latest headlight technology, which is not limited to just LEDs, helps save lives and avoid collisions.

“Headlight technology is a core vehicle safety feature that continues to improve nighttime visibility,” the statement reads. 

The NHTSA last year approved adaptive driving beam headlights, which automatically adjust to brighten unoccupied areas while minimizing light at incoming traffic. So far, the technology has not been deployed in the United States, but it has in other parts of the world.

The agency and police officials said LED conversion kits significantly contribute to glare experienced on the roadway. These aftermarket kits are LED bulbs designed to fit into headlamps originally made for halogen replaceable bulbs. The kits are prohibited and illegal to import, but some are sold online.

Meanwhile, in New York, the yearly vehicle inspections do not specifically check for aim or brightness of the light, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, though police can give out summonses for defective or improper headlights.

Mario Motta, a retired cardiologist and former American Medical Association trustee who in 2017 helped write a report for the group that recommended reducing the blue light content in LED streetlights, is a lighting advocate who also would like to see the federal standards on vehicle headlamps tweaked.

Motta said newer car models have LEDs with higher correlated color temperatures that are cooler and bluer, measured in kelvins, roughly between 5,000 K and 6,000 K. But he said a lower temperature would be effective and less jarring to the eye while minimizing the blue content. For comparison, outdoor daylight is typically between 5,500 K and 6,500 K.

“This is a solvable problem,” said Motta, of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

On Long Island, Sarah Weissbart, an ophthalmologist in East Setauket and Commack who teaches at Stony Brook Medicine, said in the last five years, she is seeing an increasing number of younger patients complaining of night driving glare.

“I do hear patients tell me, that just anecdotally … that the lights do seem to keep getting brighter. Everyone has SUVs and so when the lights are higher up, also, I think that impacts people more,” Weissbart said.

Matt Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group supported by auto insurers and insurance associations, said the federal lighting standards do not account for aim or height of the headlight, creating potential challenges.

“If you put the same headlight up high on a pickup versus down low on a small car, it's going to create more glare. None of that is controlled for,” Brumbelow said.

The institute, which has released a headlight rating system since 2016, reported a reduction in glare on 2023 vehicle model headlights compared with 2017 models. Brumbelow said more automakers are taking aim and height into consideration.

“The actual problem of glare is improving. However, there is the potential for LED headlights to create more glare just because they're brighter in general,” Brumbelow said, adding that if the lights do not point to the road, they will create more glare than other types of headlights.

It’s not just the driving public that has noticed the LED issue. Some police chiefs have acknowledged the potential benefits and drawbacks that come with the use of this technology on their own vehicles.

Village of Old Westbury Police Chief Stuart Cameron said the LED emergency lighting on squad cars, including the light bars, are valuable because they are less of a burden on the battery and provide greater all-around coverage. But they also can create nighttime problems for other drivers.

“It can be blinding at night,” Cameron said.

As a result, he said he has ordered two new vehicles with technology that automatically reduces the intensity of the emergency lighting at night.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said there is a feature on the emergency light bar on the roof called takedown lights that are important but also bothersome for other motorists.

“It gives us the ability to look into the back of somebody's car a little bit easier, but it can be distracting to other vehicles that are on the road. So it's kind of a double-edged sword,” Flatley said.

He also said LED headlights overall have the general driving public thinking “people are driving around with their bright headlights on the whole time, when they're really not.”

Paramedic Brian Anderson logs more than 150 miles during an emergency work shift crisscrossing Long Island roads and beyond. When faced with bright headlight glare from LEDs, he said drivers have little choice but to flick their eyes to the side of the road or move over.

“With the blinding lights, whether in front of you or behind you, it can distract you and it causes you to potentially not see something in the roadway,” said Anderson, a Suffolk County resident.

LED headlamps on newer vehicles are hailed for their sleek appearance, durability and energy efficiency. As the lights have become more prevalent, drivers and lighting experts are calling attention to glare and potential safety concerns. In the most extreme examples, some frustrated motorists said they now avoid driving at night.

Eyes are more sensitive to the bluer and brighter-looking headlights that are replacing traditional lights, lighting experts said. First rolled out in the mid-2000s, LEDs — light emitting diodes — for low beams were in about 86% of 2023 model vehicles tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, spokesman Joe Young said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Drivers complain that LED headlight glare makes it harder to see the road. 
  • Glare can be caused by headlight aim, aftermarket lights, and more large vehicles, like pickups and SUVs.
  • Some experts are calling for automobile safety standards to lower the blue threshold in LED headlights. 

Even if they have the same light output as halogen lighting, which tends to be more yellowish, LED lights can make other drivers uncomfortable, said John Bullough, an Albany-based senior scientist and program director of the Light and Health Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“They're going to be blinking, squinting, looking away and possibly not looking where they should be looking to see things that they might need to see to avoid a collision,” Bullough said.

Eyes are more sensitive to the bluer and brighter-looking headlights,...

Eyes are more sensitive to the bluer and brighter-looking headlights, lighting experts said. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

While the lights will make the periphery of the road look brighter, he said the overall benefit is small.

“Just because it looks brighter doesn't necessarily mean that things are more visible,” Bullough said.

John Pizzuto, a Brooklyn resident, said others' LED headlights have made it harder for him to see the road. He tries to avoid expressways, but when he gets on them, he stays in the middle lane to avoid glare from oncoming traffic.

“It’s an assault. It seems to be getting worse and worse," said Pizzuto, who signed a petition to ban LEDs created by a national advocacy group, the Soft Lights Foundation. "Now headlights are as bright as spotlights and it’s magnified because it’s not the occasional car or SUV, but it’s so popular you get it coming at you and coming from behind. It’s almost like your vision is impaired.”

Glare increasing factor in crashes

Compared with 2018, glare increasingly has been listed as a contributing factor in Long Island car crashes. Glare was a factor in 749 crashes last year, up 28% compared with 2018, when there were 584 crashes linked to glare, according to data kept by the Albany-based Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research. The data doesn't specifically track whether LED lights are the cause.

Experts said three factors could be contributing to glare being experienced from LED lights: aftermarket lights that are not approved for use, a lack of state regulations that monitor misaligned lights, and more pickups and SUVs with higher-positioned lights that shine into a driver’s sight line.

Several lighting and medical experts, including Bullough, said the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which are regulations that automakers must adhere to, should be reassessed. Standards for automobile lighting were created in the 1920s based on incandescent bulbs, which had little or no blue. 

“We should definitely think about defining light that includes more of this blue sensitivity,” Bullough said, adding that LED headlights can be designed to be warmer in color so they do not contain as much blue. 

Regulators, automakers defend headlight tech

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in an email that it establishes safety standards for headlights and other equipment to reduce crashes and injuries, and its lighting standard “continues to limit the amount of glare directed toward oncoming and preceding traffic.”

In a statement, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing major automakers, said the latest headlight technology, which is not limited to just LEDs, helps save lives and avoid collisions.

“Headlight technology is a core vehicle safety feature that continues to improve nighttime visibility,” the statement reads. 

The NHTSA last year approved adaptive driving beam headlights, which automatically adjust to brighten unoccupied areas while minimizing light at incoming traffic. So far, the technology has not been deployed in the United States, but it has in other parts of the world.

Aftermarket LED conversion kits also blamed

The agency and police officials said LED conversion kits significantly contribute to glare experienced on the roadway. These aftermarket kits are LED bulbs designed to fit into headlamps originally made for halogen replaceable bulbs. The kits are prohibited and illegal to import, but some are sold online.

Meanwhile, in New York, the yearly vehicle inspections do not specifically check for aim or brightness of the light, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, though police can give out summonses for defective or improper headlights.

Mario Motta, a retired cardiologist and former American Medical Association trustee who in 2017 helped write a report for the group that recommended reducing the blue light content in LED streetlights, is a lighting advocate who also would like to see the federal standards on vehicle headlamps tweaked.

One opthalmologist is seeing more younger patients complaining of night...

One opthalmologist is seeing more younger patients complaining of night driving glare. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Motta said newer car models have LEDs with higher correlated color temperatures that are cooler and bluer, measured in kelvins, roughly between 5,000 K and 6,000 K. But he said a lower temperature would be effective and less jarring to the eye while minimizing the blue content. For comparison, outdoor daylight is typically between 5,500 K and 6,500 K.

“This is a solvable problem,” said Motta, of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

On Long Island, Sarah Weissbart, an ophthalmologist in East Setauket and Commack who teaches at Stony Brook Medicine, said in the last five years, she is seeing an increasing number of younger patients complaining of night driving glare.

“I do hear patients tell me, that just anecdotally … that the lights do seem to keep getting brighter. Everyone has SUVs and so when the lights are higher up, also, I think that impacts people more,” Weissbart said.

Federal standards don't account for aim, height

Matt Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group supported by auto insurers and insurance associations, said the federal lighting standards do not account for aim or height of the headlight, creating potential challenges.

“If you put the same headlight up high on a pickup versus down low on a small car, it's going to create more glare. None of that is controlled for,” Brumbelow said.

The institute, which has released a headlight rating system since 2016, reported a reduction in glare on 2023 vehicle model headlights compared with 2017 models. Brumbelow said more automakers are taking aim and height into consideration.

“The actual problem of glare is improving. However, there is the potential for LED headlights to create more glare just because they're brighter in general,” Brumbelow said, adding that if the lights do not point to the road, they will create more glare than other types of headlights.

It’s not just the driving public that has noticed the LED issue. Some police chiefs have acknowledged the potential benefits and drawbacks that come with the use of this technology on their own vehicles.

Village of Old Westbury Police Chief Stuart Cameron said the LED emergency lighting on squad cars, including the light bars, are valuable because they are less of a burden on the battery and provide greater all-around coverage. But they also can create nighttime problems for other drivers.

“It can be blinding at night,” Cameron said.

As a result, he said he has ordered two new vehicles with technology that automatically reduces the intensity of the emergency lighting at night.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said there is a feature on the emergency light bar on the roof called takedown lights that are important but also bothersome for other motorists.

“It gives us the ability to look into the back of somebody's car a little bit easier, but it can be distracting to other vehicles that are on the road. So it's kind of a double-edged sword,” Flatley said.

He also said LED headlights overall have the general driving public thinking “people are driving around with their bright headlights on the whole time, when they're really not.”

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