Dazzling Headlights: Drivers and the Lords make their mark

As a result of an Oral Question in the Lords, research by the RAC, input from optometrists and a petition on Parliament’s website, Ministers have agreed to launch a review into headlight glare where drivers are dazzled by on-coming cars.

After I almost stopped driving at night due to the glare from new, LED, headlights which are brighter and whiter than more common halogen headlights, I was told by my optician that this was affecting many patients and the issue was the lights, not their eyes. This was confirmed by the College of Optometrists who reported that very many of their members were also having people coming to them who actually had no eye problem. The RAC had already done a large survey of 2,000 drivers (initially in 2018, then more recently in January this year) which showed that more than four out of five drivers affected by headlight glare believe the problem is getting worse. Two-thirds of those who suffer said being dazzled forces them to slow down considerably, while 64% think some headlights are so bright they risk causing accidents. Government figures show an average of 280 collisions every year where dazzling headlights were a contributory factor. Of these, six a year involved someone losing their life.

This affects more than just road safety – important though that is. If people stop driving in the dark, this affects their working, family and social life, especially in winter with fewer hours of daylight.

My question in the Lords, led to some interaction with the Department of Transport which at first was not convinced there was a problem. But a group I convened (including the RAC, LightAware and the College of Optometrists) produced the case for action, which was then reinforced by similar findings from drivers’ groups across other European countries. The more intense and focused beam hurt the eyes more, whilst the so-called auto-dipping in fact often doesn’t react fast enough to stop full beam continuing when the light should be dipped. Drivers particularly complain about SUVs and large cars, where lights are positioned higher than on more conventional vehicles like hatchbacks, causing glare for on-coming drivers.

10,000 signatures of the petition web site led to a government response, which effectively acknowledged the existence of the problem and committed to commission independent research to “better understand the root causes of driver glare and identify any further appropriate mitigations”. The RAC, which has long campaigned on the issue said the study will be a “golden opportunity” to “get to the bottom of the problem”. The RAC’s 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”.

This breakthrough is a victory for all those drivers affected by glare who’ve complained to their MP, signed the parliamentary petition, contacted the RAC, or sought help from an optometrist only to discover the problem was with headlights, and not their eyes. But it’s also a telling example of how strong campaigning on behalf of consumers, and some coverage in the Lords and in Parliament, can make a real difference. Whilst it will now be important for the government to gather research from eye specialists, car designers, lighting experts, safety advisors and drivers themselves, it is excellent news that a focus on the issue can move things forward and hopefully make our roads safer for all users – the drivers, on-coming cars, motorcyclists and pedestrians, all of whom need to be able to see clearly at every moment they are on the road.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town is a current member of the House of Lords.