When the motor car was originally invented it was little more than its predecessor, the horse drawn carriage. The light for this new contraption were acetylene lamps, with just enough light to indicate its presence, travelling at walking pace, slower than most vehicle on the road, this weak light was all that was necessary. The earliest headlamps were fuelled by acetylene or oil and were introduced in the late 1880s.
[A]mong the earliest inventions were the ‘Prest-O-Lite’ acetylene lamps that were popular because the flame was resistant to wind and rain. The first electric headlamps were introduced in 1898 on the Columbia Electric Car from the Electric Vehicle Company of Hartford, Connecticut, but the manufacturers regarded them as superfluous so made them optional extras. Two factors limited the widespread use of electric headlamps: the short life of filaments in the harsh automotive environment, and the difficulty of producing dynamos small enough, yet powerful enough to produce sufficient current.
As cars developed into a shape we would recognise today, and with speeds attaining the dizzy heights of 50mph Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulbs were necessary for drivers to see and be seen. This lasted until the advent of Ward War II made it necessary for vehicles to take to the road with the barest minimum of illumination but as there were hardly any other vehicles around; the biggest danger was falling down a bomb crater.
From the 1950’s car development has moved on apace, and with it so have vehicles’ headlights. First fog lights were added which, if the manufacturer’s claims were to be believed, would cut a swath through fog with their ethereal yellow beam. A further development was for moving away from the parabolic mirror to a more efficient reflecting shape giving a better and more focussed beam.
For the manufacturers of the prestigious Marques, the humble beam of Edison’s humble bulb was not sufficiently impressive for their discerning (or if you prefer – exhibitionist) customers, and so a brighter light had to be found. As if with perfect timing the HID (high-intensity discharge) Xenon/Bi-Xenon car headlights dropped into their laps at just the time the world was agonizing over global warming. What luck! A high intensity light that shows off the owner’s wealth and his green credentials at the same time. These headlights not only save on the watts, but also light up the streets way better for the driver, but not it has to be said for anyone approaching the vehicle.
Now doctors are becoming aware that the bright and extra headlights are causing stress and many other road users would like to see some action taken to reduce this unnecessary glare. It has been suggested that being confronted with a bright distracting light triggers a fight or flight response, with the result that high blood pressure, stress and blood sugars increase, not to mention the added risk of eye disease.
Unnecessary distracting and blinding lights are a hazard and that you will actually be doing the manufactures a favour by nipping this in the bud soon, as they could be liable for the damage that is resulting from this, to take a blind eye (no pun intended) to this is not only negligent but criminal. The eye is the most sensitive of all our senses; it is easily damaged as well as the most easily distracted. All this extra lighting is causing accidents, not preventing them, many people seem to agree about this issue and I have yet to speak to a single person who was in favour of these lights, although no discussion has yet taken place with a 4×4 driver.
The brightness is made worst as these high intensity lights are fitted on high vehicles whose headlight are at the same height as other driver’s eyes. In addition we now we have a situation that every wannabe boy racer’s car has been installed with these HID lights as well, modifying their current headlights, and driving with HID fog lights to supplement their headlights. All to attain that oh so cool blueish/whitish glow, or to tell their fellow drivers that they’re blind.
The only proper and indeed ethical course of action is to regulate now.
2 thoughts on “I’m incandescent with rage”
I no longer have a car and in many ways, it’s a relief no longer having to drive. However, in the words of the song, I remember it well. Night driving presents us with a conflicting set of demands. We need 1. to see; 2. to be seen; and 3. not to be dazzled by oncoming lights. The first two are obviously incompatible with the third and so the whole thing will remain problematic unless and until the technology improves.
Being driven at night by my previous partner was frightening: if we met oncoming traffic, its lights would dazzle her and prevent her from seeing the road, so she would stop dead, putting us at risk of collision from some purblind driver arriving behind us. The system of dipped headlights only approximately works and is often nullified completely by the terrain, by ill-adjusted headlights or by lazy drivers failing to flick the switch.
We used to travel in France a lot and on every trip solemnly installed a pair of discs on the headlights which, in theory, changed their colour to the yellow required by French law in those days and refracted the light to the right. The discs certainly changed the colour of the light but also reduced its intensity; and to judge from the merry flashing of oncoming drivers’ lights, they did little to adjust the direction of the beam.
Dazzling headlamps are only one part of the problem of increasing light pollution. We take for granted the electric lights in our houses, in public places and throughout the city as a whole, yet the Victorians found the new electric light garish and overly intense. We, on the other hand, now find an interior lit by candles or oil lamps uncomfortably dim, if “romantic”. We have become largely inured to the high-powered artificial lighting that is now the norm and feel vulnerable in lighting conditions that would have been comfortable for the Victorians. The disparity is increasing all the time.
We already have laws about the lighting of vehicles and yet we are still dazzled to the point of blindness on the roads. The law is at best a palliative, not a cure. The cure can only come from technology but no cure yet seems to be on the cards, let alone on the cars. Perhaps the answer is to light all of our roads as they are lit in town so that powerful headlamps are no longer required. The cost, though, would be prohibitive unless it could be paid for, perhaps by road-pricing schemes. Car drivers, however, are the most selfish people on the planet and the first to complain when taxed or charged to pay for the damage they cause. They will happily lay out the cash to convert their cars into mobile discos but not pay to make the roads safer for drivers – and pedestrians – to use.
High intensity headlights arn’t necessary in London, to see, orbe seen, but clearly these idiots feel the need for them.
Street lighting in rural areas is usually unnecessary after midnight. If councils reduced “light pollution” we could all enjoy the sight of the milky way, just as I could as a lad.