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London cabbie launches 'Lightmare' campaign against menace of HID headlights

Poweful lights dazzle other road users, claims campaigner, putting cyclists and pedestrians at risk

A London taxi driver has launched a campaign against High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, which he says create a hazard to other motorists, dazzling them and making it difficult to see other vehicles as well as vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

Ken Perham, aged 60, who has been driving black cabs on the capital’s streets for nearly four decades, has launched an online campaign, called Lightmare, to publicise what he sees as the danger of HID headlights, also called bi-xenon, reports the BBC.

His campaign aims to bring about stricter regulation and safety testing of the headlamps, which he says are also responsible for a kind of arms race as cyclists equip themselves with more and more powerful front lights to try and remain visible.

“This escalating light madness caused by vehicles is forcing cyclists to use powerful front and rear flashing LED lamps in an attempt at self preservation, but unwittingly they making it collectively worse for everyone creating a ligtmare,” he says on the organisation’s website.

Mr Perham cites the case of one cyclist who announced on a cycling forum that he had bought a 2,000 lumen front light that resulted in oncoming cars pulling over, describing it as the “best 300 quid I ever spent! Get One and Get Even!”

But, Mr Perham says, “Should cyclists have to spend £300 to defend themselves against cars and trucks thus escalating the lightmare?”

Talking to the BBC about his campaign, Mr Perham says: "Without a doubt, the lights are intimidating you so badly that you have to change the way you drive and that isn't right," Mr Perham says.

"It's just vehicle after vehicle after vehicle, with lights that look like they're on full beam when they are actually on dip, they're that good."

The BBC reports that in 2009, some 365 accidents occurred as a result of dazzling headlights, three of them resulting in fatalities.

The law currently requires that headlights should not be used in a manner that dazzles other road users, but HID headlamps are at least half as bright again as existing halogen lights.

While the latter give of a soft, yellowish light, HID headlights emit a much brighter, bluish white light that even when dipped can appear equivalent to halogen lamps on full beam.

Although they undoubtedly provide a benefit to drivers who use them, lighting up more of the road ahead, Mr Perham, whose campaign is supported by the Driving Instructors Association and the British Motorcyclists Federation, as well as national cyclists’ organisation CTC, is worried about their effect on other road users.

His concern is also endorsed by Geoffrey Roberson of the Association of Optometrists, who says: "They [motorists who have halogen lights] are not going to see as well or as far because their headlamps aren't as powerful - and they are going to have extra glare and discomfort that's produced by the HID headlamps.

"The consequence of that, maybe, is that they are less able to see pedestrians, cyclists, that sort of thing.”

He added that the problem could be exacerbated among older drivers such as Mr Perham himself.

"We know the older age groups suffer more from glare-related problems so [as HIDs are brighter] they will get more dazzling glare."

That claim is backed up by a 2002 study by researchers at the University of Kansas that found that older drivers were more likely to suffer glare from HID headlamps than younger motorists.

It added that “Glare is proportional to headlamp brightness, however, so increasing headlamp brightness also increases potential glare for oncoming drivers, particularly on curving two lane roads,” and that “The increased light projected by HID headlights is potentially valuable, but serious questions remain regarding how and where it should be projected.”

Paul Everitt of the trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said that Mr Perham’s concerns were groundless and that HID headlamps, far from causing danger, were an important safety feature.

"High intensity lighting [headlamps] have been solely developed to improve road safety - they are part of what is a quite sophisticated lighting system,” he insisted.

"They are designed to ensure that the light is focused on the road. I think glare is a problem for all road users so I don't buy that [HID headlamps] are more dazzling, or more likely to dazzle, than any other headlamp."

The BBC adds that car manufacturers maintain that HIDs conform to European standards and also undergo extensive testing.

A distinction has been made by some campaigners against HIDs in countries such as the United States, however, between those fitted as original equipment (OEM) to a vehicle when it is first delivered to the purchaser, and those bought as aftermarket parts, which are claimed to often be of inferior quality.

Given the fashion among some younger motorists to modify their vehicles and temptation to cut costs where possible to achieve the desired look for their vehicles, that is likely to provide a further cause of concern for campaigners against HIDs.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Daclu Trelub | 13 years ago

Biker Bob is right on the money.
The vast majority of factory-fitted HIDs are ok, provided they are correctly adjusted, and not fiddled with by the owner. Problem is, during the first three years before the MoT test, the owner could fiddle with them all he likes and dazzle others.
Regarding the aftermarket 'upgrades', there are plenty of idiots out there who fit the ebay Chinese specials to their ordinary halogen lamps and because the halogen headlight is not designed to accomodate an HID bulb, the light is poorly focused and scattered, resulting in dazzle.
Exactly the same thing happened when sealed beam units (anyone remember them?) were replaced with halogens from the factory - many users didn't know they were dazzling other drivers because of bad adjustment, and some didn't care.

Serge | 13 years ago

Maybe I've got more sensitive eyes than most (I sneeze when going out into sunlight!), but HID's are really dangerous. No-ones eyes can adjust to see both the really bright in HID lights and the consequently less bright road and road users around them. The brighter the lights the sharper the contrast between them and everything else and so the less that it is possible to see.

This is the next thing after putting 'Bull-bars' on your 4x4 to protect your kids inside the car - only to cause much greater injury to any kid you hit. It's a selfish attitude of 'safety to me and my family' first with out the simple logic that if others do it too your safety is put at greater risk.

Also, unfortunately many people who buy after-market HID's don't read the small print on some: "All aftermarket HID Xenon lighting kits are not E-approved so kits are intended for off-road and show use only." I found this on the first website I found that sold HID's.

BikerBob | 13 years ago

It's not the HID headlamps fitted as original equipment to cars that's the problem it's the aftermarket ones probably badly fitted into vehicles that have lenses which aren't designed to correctly focus the light.

There's a thriving market for HID's on ebay no doubt sold to boy racers upgrading their Saxo's!

Fitting HID bulbs are a popular upgrade with motorcyclists as motorbikes generally don't have very good headlamps as standard. The HID bulbs give substantially more light at night and are generally felt to give motorcycles a better "presence" on the roads during the day. Careful adjustment is required to avoid dazzling other road users and they aren't always that effective working best with projector type headlamps.

G-bitch | 13 years ago

I have to agree with oldridgeback and others - it's a real problem regardless of the mode of transport. It doesn't seem to matter if it's a case of DIY 'upgrades' being poorly adjusted or brand new BMW's/Mercedes and other premium brands which seem to fit these bulbs as standard, they all dazzle like mad. I've had problems in the car and on the bike, particularly on unlit roads and even on motorways via the rear-view mirror!

charlie_lcc | 13 years ago

Headlights are not required by law if there is streetlighting, as many cabbies know. People go slower and take more care if they only use sidelights; pedestrians and cyclists are easier to see. I saw this explained in a Science Museum display, about 50 years ago.

handlebarcam | 13 years ago

*cough* Magicshine *cough*

downfader replied to handlebarcam | 13 years ago
handlebarcam wrote:

*cough* Magicshine *cough*

I hate the magicshine for a few reasons. One is the eliptical beam - there should be a cut off at the top to stop glare into other road users eyes.

Lights like the magicshine also are really designed for off-road routes where you may need to see low branches ahead. For on-road you need to angle it right down. Most cyclists using them dont realise this.

Super bright lights like this also obscure hand signals - all you can see is the light half the time.

I made this in 2009, the problem hasnt gone away:
In someways its getting worse.

OldRidgeback | 13 years ago

This is an important campaign. I've been in touch with the cabbie as part of my day job and he's right in that headlight glare is a serious safety issue. It does not appear to be appreciated by some vehicle manufacturers who have the narrow minded view that more lighting is good for safety, without having the intelligence to realise the risks caused by glare to other road users. I wish this campaign well and hope the members of this forum will take the chance to give it some backing as it is of benefit to road users of all types.

TheHatter | 13 years ago

"escalating the lightmare"

you've got to admire someone who writes the journo's puns for them.

Municipal Waste | 13 years ago

The super bright bulbs aren't the only problem... People with completly un set up headlights are also a pain in the butt!
Headlights are made to be adjustable by a mechanic to face the road and I've seen loads of them that point right up into oncomming traffic! So annoying!!!

downfader replied to Municipal Waste | 13 years ago
Municipal Waste wrote:

The super bright bulbs aren't the only problem... People with completly un set up headlights are also a pain in the butt!
Headlights are made to be adjustable by a mechanic to face the road and I've seen loads of them that point right up into oncomming traffic! So annoying!!!

I agree. During the winter I was riding in to work when it was still dark at 7am. A car was heading the other way across a junction as I queued for the red light, but by christ it was pointing right at me retinas. So bright that I had to extend a hand to shield it.

It was only as the car went past that I was eyeballed by two bemused coppers.

I think this is a good campaign! I use a couple of light that are about 200 lumens but rarely are they on the high setting unless its an unlit road and theres no other traffic.

A V Lowe | 13 years ago

Perhaps we might reflect on the move, strongly opposed by CTC to fit rear lights to cycles. This runs totally counter to the basic principles of road safety - of the responsibility of a following road user to see what is in front of them and 'drive' to be able to stop within the distance they see to be clear.

Deer, trees and cows don't have rear lights and sometimes they even go out trucks - so we could press for a regime of having only reflectors on the rear of any vehicle. Making essential that drivers pay pr5oper attention to what is in front of them.

Limiting forward lighting intensity should also be a road safety gain as a carefully restricted lighting level will make it 'feel' more dangerous to race in to the night with just a candle to light your way.

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