Blinding Headlights

I’ve lived in Tucson, Arizona for ten months now, and I have to tell you, it is no fun driving here at night. While it is a joy living in a city that for a change isn’t horribly overlit and that takes light pollution seriously (though that is starting to erode), it is often hard to see at night because of the many vehicles on the road with blinding headlights. In recent years, this has become a huge problem throughout the U.S., and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) needs to act quickly and decisively to deal with this dangerous nuisance.

Not only have headlights gotten brighter and bluer (which makes glare much worse), many vehicles have multiple sets of headlights, including “fog lights” that are anything but. High-profile vehicles such as pickup trucks and SUVs are especially bad when it comes to causing blinding glare for smaller, less extravagant vehicles. Jacked-up pickup trucks are the worst, and there are a lot of them here.

When one of these headlight-offensive vehicles is heading towards you, it makes it difficult to see the road ahead. It is especially hard to see pedestrians and bicyclists. Pavement markings are also harder to see because of the glare from the oncoming vehicle, especially when those lines are badly faded and in need of re-painting (as they often are here).

Tucson has far too many busy intersections without a protected left turn, and if you find yourself in a left-turn lane being stared down by a headlight-offensive vehicle in the opposite left-turn lane, the glare blinds you so much that it is difficult to see oncoming vehicles in the through-traffic lanes.

When a headlight-offensive vehicle comes up behind you and, as they often do, practically rides your bumper because driving at or near the speed limit isn’t fast enough for them, you’re hit with their intense glare in all three rear-view mirrors. This makes it harder to see the road ahead, and you have to slow down—which tends to aggravate them more than they already are. If you’re lucky, they can pass you—though sometimes they will illegally cross a double yellow line to do it.

Because of all these intense and unregulated vehicle headlights, I now avoid driving at night whenever possible.

Sure, headlights like these helps the perpetrator see better so they can drive down the road at night exceeding the speed limit (which is seldom enforced here, by the way), but everyone else—drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians—is blinded.

What are the specific problems with modern vehicle headlights that need to be addressed, and what are the solutions?

  • Problem: The average vehicle’s total headlight lumen output (and individual headlight luminance) has dramatically increased in recent years, causing a corresponding increase in discomfort and disability glare for everyone else.
  • Solution: Headlights would not have to be so bright if speed limits were lower at night on many city streets and thoroughfares, and if the posted speed limits were actually enforced.
  • Solution: Implement adaptive driving beam (ADB) technology that uses sensors to detect oncoming traffic and adjusts the projected beam pattern to allow plenty of light for the driver without blinding other motorists. (ADB is widely used in Europe, but is not yet legal in the United States.)
  • Problem: Light-emitting diode (LED) and High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights emit more light at the blue end of the visible spectrum than traditional warm-white or yellowish halogen headlights do, and these bluer lights result in significantly greater visual discomfort and impairment for other drivers.
  • Solution: Limit the amount of blue light that headlights can produce.
  • Problem: Poor headlight aim leads to dangerous glare for others.
  • Solution: Require regular headlight aim inspections and adjustments. Anytime a vehicle’s suspension is lifted, require headlight aim to be adjusted downward accordingly.

Here’s a petition you might want to sign:

I’d like to close this article by quoting one of the many insightful comments in the Comments section of the New York Times article listed under References below.

Like everything else, it is no longer about the collective good and the laws that protect it. Individualism now rules—individual freedom. Headlights have become a First Amendment issue—an element of free speech.

And they have become part of the conservative anti-government backlash. Laws regulating headlights are seen as government intrusion into personal freedoms. It is seen by many to be like the COVID mask issue. Too many people think personal freedom trumps everything else–even collective health and safety.

And there is a free-market aspect to this. Manufacturers are looking for ways to add features to cars that will make them more attractive to buyers. They know the lights are unsafe, yet they put them on their vehicles.

America has lost all common sense.

Evanston, IL | June 9, 2021

Mark my words, if we keep heading down this path of excessive individual freedom (read: selfishness) without significant responsibility for the common good (that means everybody, not just your tribe), it will be our undoing. The United States will become a miserable place to live for the majority of us for at least a generation. I’m not hopeful that we can turn this around in time. Too many of us are “asleep at the wheel” and too easily swayed by misinformation and propaganda.


Mele, Christopher. “Blinded by Brighter Headlights? It’s Not Your Imagination.” New York Times, June 5, 2021,

5 thoughts on “Blinding Headlights”

  1. Yep. I hate those headlights also. It’s very annoying when being followed by a truck that is always higher anyway, and the light blasts into the mirror and your eyes.
    At least they are temporary – unlike most light pollution. I’ve been trying to fight it here in the small city I live in (as you know!) but it’s a losing battle against big box stores, more gas stations….etc. I’ve contacted many of them on email and reassured they are being responsible, but in the end they aren’t. I’m losing the Milky Way over my house, and starting to question the future of my home observatory.
    As for the last comments, I totally agree with you that we are on a downward spiral. Not just the country but a species. Nobody gets along, a handful of world leaders mess things up for everyone, a certain impeached leader has made it “cool” to be an asshole and excessively exercise 1st amendment – and wave their 2nd around. It’s a race between climate and human selfishness now who does us in first.

    1. Thanks, Tom, looking forward to meeting you someday. We are kindred spirits. We also have to worry about satellite megaconstellations now, too. Here is a good recent article about the situation:

      I posted a comment, and others did, too. All interesting reading.

      Be glad you have an observatory! Even if light pollution worsens, there is still good work you can do. For example, asteroid/TNO occultations. I did lots of that work from my backyard observatory in Wisconsin, but given the housing market as it was last year with low availability and rising interest rates, we had to settle on a house in Tucson with no conceivable place to put an observatory. Now, I am faced with trying to partner with someone who does have room for an observatory, but in this nation of “fiercely independent” people, I hold little hope of finding anyone who actually would want to work on a collaborative amateur research observatory effort.

      1. Hi David,
        Yep, we are very like minded and on the same page for sure. Good article, I’ve seen it before, but do need to read through the comments some more. I get in arguments with SpaceX “fanboys” all the time about this topic on social media. I need to ignore and walk away. I did actually get blocked from posting for 7 days also for my comments on Elon and his personal worldwide monument to himself. I am torn on this though, the internet overall is great (I have friends in Door county on it – reluctantly), but the damage it’s doing to the sky is unacceptable. Even the darkest places on the planet are hurt by this. I used to get excited to watch SpaceX launches, but lately my level of disgust with Musk overall makes me not really care anymore. If I get around to seeing a launch in Florida again (although FL is low on my list of places to go lately) I’d rather see a NASA launch than SpaceX. (I’ve been to 3 shuttle launches in the past).
        The fight…uh..”education” goes on here as I try to convince about light problems. My home observatory hasn’t been used in months now since the LINK Media billboard has ruined a large chunk of my sky. I am getting media attention some more again:

        Proclamation by Tony Evers:

        Article in local news:

        Just today another plug for the proclamation:

        Will this help? I don’t know. I’m disgusted that we bought this house under the Milky Way, and now half of it is gone. I keep having this thought of giving up and selling my observatory and gear, but I keep talking myself out of it, but not sure how long I can keep that up. Link Media isn’t done with me yet….

        1. Thank you for your comments, Tom. Your remarks about Musk particularly resonated with me. Thanks for posting all three of these links, and wow, the International Dark Sky Week proclamation from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is wonderful! So glad he got re-elected, for reasons too numerous (or too off topic) to list here.

          1. Hey! Just after that article was posted we had another big light victory here. The gas station mentioned did re-aim their lights and baffled them. The owner was a bit annoyed that the article said “trying for year” (which was mis-written). I did contact the property owner just before that time. Anyway, I give them a lot of praise on my Dark Sky FB page.


            Also, the health clinic nearby. I had a good chat with a facilities manager there and he was very interested in fixing it. They started already with the parking lot lights and he had a list of things they were going to do. So, that is heading the right direction too.


            Now I will use them as good examples for other bright places in the area. The Link Outdoor Media is still #1 on my list. They have been really unresponsive, and they are the WORST offenders in our area. I did send another email to Green Bay manager, the CEO, another guy in the top and the Info@ address. No response yet. Maybe time for another article in the news? Not sure, but they are way up at the top of my s***t list for sure.


            This was taken the other night coming back from some aurora photography at 1:10 am. Who reads these at night? Ugh!!

            Yes! Very pleased about the proclamation and happy Tony Evers is still in. Then we also got a good win lately with Janet P. for supreme court. There’s hope for Wisconsin!

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