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Blinded by the light

The April 2003 issue of Consumer Reports has a brief article on one of my pet peeves: HID headlights.

Odds are, you love high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights if they're on your vehicle.... But drivers on the receiving end of that light describe it in less-than-glowing terms.

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it was looking into complaints about glare from HID lights, high-mounted sport-utility-vehicle lights, and fog lights, most of the roughly 4,000 responses that poured in complained about HIDs.

The numbers are especially significant considering that HID-equipped vehicles account for only about 1 percent of U.S. cars and trucks sold.

Automakers note that HID headlights meet current federal standards and attribute the complaints about them to a tendency for drivers to stare at the lights' distinctive blue-white hue.

But our research and headlight tests of 41 vehicles--some with halogens, some with HIDs--show that HIDs do produce more glare, which is the temporary annoyance or blindness caused by bright light in your field of view. Dirty glasses or contact lenses can increase glare. Experts also say its effects become more noticeable after age 50. While HIDs' blue hue is part of the glare problem, much of it lies in how their brighter light is distributed.

I'm over 50 and I do wear contacts. Driving over the rolling hills and pothole-filled roads of SE Pennsylvania, I find these headlights particularly prone to brief but blinding flashes as the cars they are attached to crest hills or bounce over uneven pavement. And I really hate being followed by an SUV or truck with them. I drive a Honda Accord, which puts me pretty close to the ground. The headlights on these big vehicles illuminate the inside of my car as though it were daylight and make my rearview mirrors unusable--no, actually these mirrors produce so much glare that they become downright hazardous.

Do you agree? Do you want to let the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration know? If so, you can go to the NHTSA web site, click on "Comment/Submissions," log-in, register or click on "Continue" and, sooner or later, you'll get to a page where you can enter the "Docket ID." Enter "8885" and click on "Continue," then you can make a comment.

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