Elderly drivers are being forced off the road due to the increasing use of illegal ultra-powerful headlights that are affecting their ability to drive safely.
The College of Optometrists (CO) has told The Telegraph that its members are seeing an increase in the number of patients that are no longer driving at night due to the dazzle from LED lights.
It said these issues are particularly acute for those older drivers with eye conditions, such as cataracts, due to the impact bright lights have on people with those conditions.
Avoiding driving at night
Analysis from the RAC has found that 16 per cent of motorists avoided driving at night because of the intensity of headlights, with 25 per cent of drivers over 65 opting against night driving.
Rod Dennis, RAC spokesman, said: “Badly angled headlights might be something to do with it, but drivers tell us they also believe it’s the increasing number of cars on the roads fitted with piercingly bright LED headlights that’s to blame.”
LED headlights currently fall into two categories, those that are installed in new cars at the factory, but also LEDs that have been retrofitted to replace original halogen bulbs.
It is currently illegal to retrofit LED lights into a car being used on public roads, and there are no regulations around the intensity of these lights, or how they are installed, increasing the chances of drivers being dazzled.
‘Regulations not up with market’
Retailer Halfords estimates that there could be as many as 860,000 of these “aftersale” lights have been bought in the UK but believes some may have been purchased in the country but are being used overseas.
A Halfords spokesperson said: “The regulations have not caught up with the market, and as things stand these bulbs can only be fitted legally to off-road vehicles.
“We want to see the regulations updated, not just so that people can fit LED bulbs to road vehicles legally, but to make it easier for motorists to distinguish between compliant bulbs that don’t dazzle and bulbs that do not meet standards of quality and safety.”
However, Mr Dennis believes that while aftersale bulbs might be part of the problem, the sheer number of people complaining suggests that it might be all LEDs that are causing problems.
He added: “It’s this that needs testing – sadly at the moment there’s a distinct lack of recent scientific evidence that helps explain the root causes of the problem.”
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said all headlights must comply with legislation that ensures they produce a pattern of light that minimises glare while maximising the distance drivers can see.
He added: “Headlights, and in particular their aim, are checked during the MOT and so long as an approved bulb is fitted, correct aim will minimise glare, which is ultimately a subjective issue affecting different people to greater or lesser extents.”
The dazzle, or what is clinically known as glare, is caused by the loss of contrast, which happens when light scatters within the eye, and gives drivers the impression a veil has been thrown over their vision.
Denise Voon, clinical adviser at the CO, said that glare for drivers does increase where there are multiple light sources, such as on a busy road, and if you have eye conditions, such as cataracts.
She said: “The majority of people over 60 have some level of cataracts, which results in your intraocular lens, which judges distance, getting more cloudy with age.
“If you make that slightly more foggy, you’ll get increased light scatter and increased glare and it will be just more difficult for drivers to see.”
However, it is not just elderly drivers affected, with a survey by the RAC finding that three in 10 drivers between 17 and 34 believing car lights are too bright.
Collisions from ‘dazzle’
Government collision data between 2012 and 2022, shows that on average 270 collisions each year had “dazzling headlights” given as a contributory factor; 56 casualties across the period were fatal.
Baroness Hayter, who has campaigned on the issue, said: “The CO and the RAC report numerous cases of headlight glare, any many drivers – like myself – are increasingly choosing not to drive at night because of the dazzle from these new, white and bright lights.
“The Government should act now rather than see people driven off the road or accidents happening.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “Safety on our roads is paramount. All headlights must adhere to strict technical standards and there are regulations in place to minimise the impact of LEDs.
“While data doesn’t link new lighting technology with specific road safety issues, our engineers raised these concerns at an international expert group in April, where it was agreed for new standards around headlamp aiming and levelling systems to further reduce glare.”