Lighting the way


POSTED: Sunday, November 23, 2008

Question: I have heard that the new “;bright”; automobile headlights have been banned. If so, is the Police Department doing anything about it?

Answer: The state law dealing with “;bright”; headlights for motor vehicles, motorcycles, motor scooters and motorized bicycles is long-standing and doesn't ban any new lights.

You might be referring to “;high-intensity discharge”; (HID) lamps, which are being installed on new vehicles or purchased by a vehicle owner and installed “;aftermarket.”;

Those installed by manufacturers are certified to meet federal standards, although some installed by owners might not be, said John Lovstedt, motor vehicle safety officer with the state Department of Transportation.

Police are authorized to issue a citation for unsafe vehicles, while motor vehicle inspectors are authorized to fail a vehicle if the headlamps are out of alignment or not certified to be in compliance with federal standards, he said.

Honolulu police officers “;are not trained and do not have equipment to check for compliance with headlight specifications,”; said Sgt. Robert Lung, of HPD's Traffic Division, adding that “;compliance is supposed to be checked during the annual safety inspection.”;

  The word “;bright”; really can be in the eye of the beholder.

Around 1979, vehicle manufacturers went from installing incandescent lamps to halogen lamps, Lovstedt explained.

“;Motorists complained because they thought the halogen lamps were too bright compared with the incandescent lamps,”; he said. “;However, the halogen lamps were not designed to be brighter; they were designed to be whiter and use less energy.”;

He also noted that even incandescent lamps can appear to be too bright when they are out of alignment.

More recently, he said, manufacturers began installing HID lamps, prompting motorists to complain that they are too bright compared with the halogen lamps.

There also have been complaints that they have a bluish tint to them, rather than being white like the halogens, he said.

You probably are referring to those lamps or the new, aftermarket HID lamps that can be installed on vehicles not originally equipped with them.

Regarding new vehicles, Lovstedt said manufacturers have to certify that the total vehicle complies with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in effect, as of the date of manufacture, including “;lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment.”;

While HID lamps are brighter than halogen lamps, Lovstedt explained “;they have very little spillover light that goes above the vertical limit of high-intensity illumination. When the circumstances are good, which is most of the time for car-to-car approaches, this allows more light for the driver without any additional discomfort for other motorists.”;

However, there are circumstances when they can cause “;additional discomfort,”; he acknowledged.

Two examples he gave:

» You are going up a hill when a car with HID lamps comes over the crest of the hill. Your line of vision will be below the maximum vertical limit of the HIDs, and they will appear too bright at that moment.

» They appear too bright when not aligned properly or mounted on a higher-than-normal vehicle, such as an SUV.

  The bottom line: “;HID lamps on new motor vehicles are not banned,”; he said. “;They comply with federal standards, and our laws do not disallow equipment that complies with federal standards.”;

Regarding aftermarket HID lamps, Lovstedt said some are certified by their manufacturers to comply with federal standards, but others are not.

“;Manufacturers are required to provide a means of informing the buyer that a lamp complies with (federal standards), so if there is nothing stating that the lamp complies, the lamp is illegal,”; he said.

Meanwhile, HPD's advice:

“;We recommend that a driver whose vision is impaired by bright oncoming headlights focus on the right of the roadway to lessen the impact,”; Lung said.