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opinions Rolf Lockwood

See Much?: We need better headlamps, period.

Posted: February 22, 2017 by Rolf Lockwood

Clearly, there are issues with the headlights that show us what’s ahead. Or maybe don’t. We shouldn’t be happy.

I’ve been writing about lighting in my e-newsletter, The Lockwood Report, and the heavy response has surprised me. I struck a chord.

I’ve long held that North American headlight standards are inherently dangerous because they don’t allow brightness levels to match the speeds we travel. It’s just too easy to “over-drive” your lights, meaning you can’t see as far ahead as it will take you to stop. You just don’t see obstructions until it’s already too late.

That’s what you get with most ordinary headlamps, or more particularly with the regulatory standards that define legal lighting quality. Which might have been OK in the 1960s, but we go faster now. It’s not that better bulbs and lamps don’t exist — they do. It’s that nobody’s required to supply or use them.

Until a decade or two ago, my own first step upon getting a new car was to make lighting upgrades, but modern cars — and most trucks are no different — make that difficult and/or expensive. There’s nowhere to find a solid mount for driving lamps when “bumpers” are plastic, for example, but long-range driving lamps are essential for me. Nowadays I’m outta luck.

I have yet to try the LED headlamp option, so I asked for comment and got lots.

“Poor headlights have been a sore point for me for all of the 37 years I have been in this industry as a fleet manager,” one Alberta fellow told me, saying he was glad I’d raised the issue. “Unbelievable how you buy new trucks and the headlights do not give adequate lighting.

“About 15 years ago I discovered all the common lights in semi’s can be upgraded from the standard halogen to ‘high-output’ halogen for about $5 per light. They made a huge difference.

“In the last two years I’ve purchased 15 Navistar trucks with LED headlights. Wow! Every driver had positive comments. Less fatigue and less eye strain. The lights are brighter and there’s much more side visibility. I’m also testing LED replacement lights on my older units.

“The bad news is it now costs about $500-600 a truck for the sealed beams. I think this cost will go down as demand increases. The only negative on LED lights is that until the public gets used to them, the driver gets flashed on low beam once in a while. We adjust them a little bit lower and still get excellent light.”

Other correspondents expressed hatred for LED lamps, claiming that they’re inherently too bright and blinding if not aimed correctly — and dipped from high to low beam in the face of oncoming traffic. The latter happens far too seldom, they claimed. A northern Alberta small-fleet owner said this matters especially when roads aren’t well maintained and aren’t marked with white or yellow lane-defining stripes. That sentiment was echoed by others.

A driving school operator offered good advice that doesn’t involve buying much of anything in order to see better.

“How about cleaning the film that builds up on the [headlight] covers?” he wrote. “A few minutes of elbow grease can improve things immensely. There are excellent cleaners on the market.

“How clean,” he went on, “is the windshield? The headlights may be fine but the window on the inside might be horrible with tar film from smoking, dirt, and grease smears.”

He finished with an idea that would get my support 100%. He wants to see full-time tail lights.

I’ll follow up on all this with both manufacturers and Transport Canada, and I’d be very interested to know what you readers think. Please write.

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