Headlight glare: How to cope when driving at night

October 5, 2021 by PEMCO Insurance

No, it's not your imagination. As we age, the amount of light needed to see clearly doubles roughly every 13 years. Conversely, it takes older drivers longer to recover when blasted with oncoming headlights (eight times longer for a 55-year-old compared with a 16-year-old, according to AAA).

So how to cope with the paradox of needing brighter light to see, but avoiding blinding light from approaching cars? These tips can help:GettyImages-501289710.jpg

Start with your eye health

1. Keep your eyeglasses prescription current and get your eyes checked every year. Upgrade lenses with anti-glare (sometimes called anti-reflective) coating. Also, ask your eye care provider if early stage cataracts or dry eye could be impacting your night vision. Both amplify glare and halos but, fortunately, they're treatable. If you have lighter colored eyes or have had laser-refractive surgery, your eyes may be more sensitive to glare.

2. Think twice about "night vision" glasses. While the amber-lens glasses you see advertised on TV can help improve contrast in overcast conditions (bird hunters and target enthusiasts have used them for years), their tint also cuts down on the total amount of light that reaches your eye. Harvard research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows no benefit in wearing the glasses for night driving, particularly among older drivers, when measured during simulator tests featuring headlight glare and the ability to detect pedestrians.

Optimize your car for clear vision

3. Choose your next car with night visibility in mind. For the past four years, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has made headlights a critical factor in earning its prestigious Top Safety Pick designation for new cars. And automakers are listening! This model year (2021) includes more vehicles than ever with superior lights minus the blinding glare for oncoming drivers. Also, look for adaptive headlights that turn with your steering wheel and light-sensitive mirrors that adjust to conditions, making it easier to see both traffic and pedestrians after dark. Make sure the instrument panel has a good dimmer.

4. Aim headlights correctly. Improperly aligned headlights impair your vision and that of oncoming drivers. At your car's next regular service, ask your mechanic to check and adjust them, if needed.

5.Carry ready-to-use glass wipes. With every car wash, you remove grime from your headlights and windshield. But filmy buildup on the inside of your windshield can amplify glare and reduce visibility, too. With the wipes, you don't have to wait until you get home to clean it away. Keep mirrors film-free, too.

6. Change wiper blades once a year. They're only good for about one season before they start skipping and streaking. Also, use your glass wipes to periodically clean the blades to get rid of streak-causing oxidized rubber and road oil.

7. De-fog your headlights. If your car's headlight covers have grown yellow and hazy with age, they can reduce visibility by up to 80%! A detailer can help, but you can tackle the job yourself with a headlight restoration kit, available at most auto-parts stores. Or, for an even cheaper fix, try buffing your headlight covers with ordinary white toothpaste. The mild abrasive can temporarily cut through the fog without scratching and give you clearer headlights.

Adjust your night-driving habits

8 Use high beams more often. Drivers use their high beams less than half as often as they should on dark rural roads, according to a joint study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and University of Michigan. High beams double drivers' ability to see objects ahead of them, giving about 400 feet of visibility compared with around 200 feet for low beams. You can use your high beams any time there are no oncoming vehicles and when you're more than 300 feet behind another car. You should switch to low beams when you're within 500 feet (about a block) of an oncoming driver. If you're on a winding road, you'll also want to dim your lights before you go around a curve to avoid blinding an oncoming driver. If you're car-shopping, consider models with high-beam assist, which senses whether other cars are present and automatically switches between low and high beams for you.

9. Avoid a fixed gaze. When we're tired after a long day, it's easy to zone out and stare straight ahead. Eye movement and blinking can reduce glare-amplifying dryness. You'll also be more likely to spot wildlife or a pedestrian unexpectedly emerging from the shadows. When encountering bright headlights, momentarily shift your gaze to the white line so you're using your peripheral vision to see the oncoming vehicle.

10. Limit nighttime driving much as possible. Avoid rainy or foggy conditions. Alter your routes to favor well-lighted streets. And slow down. Remember, speed limits are set for optimal conditions, and driving at night is far from optimal!  

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