Driving blind? AAA Says Cloudy Headlights Can Significantly Impair Vision

Posted: December 31st, 1969

Florham Park, N.J., December 11, 2018 — Using a vehicle’s headlights day or night is the best way to see and be seen on the road. But cloudy or yellowed headlights can lead to dangerous nighttime driving conditions. That’s because deteriorated headlights can produce 80 percent less light compared to when they are new, according to new AAA Engineering research.

With 50 percent of crashes occurring at night, AAA urges drivers to check their headlights for signs of deterioration and either replace them with new assemblies from the manufacturer or invest in professional or do-it-yourself services to improve light output.

“Think of your headlights as your car’s ‘eyes,’” said Robert Sinclair Jr., Manager of Media Relations for AAA Northeast. “Cloudy headlights are like milky cataracts that impede your vision, especially on dark or poorly lit roadways.”

The new AAA study literally sheds light on an issue that many drivers, especially older ones, are concerned about: how headlights impact night driving.

Sunlight causes the plastic coating on headlights to degrade. It also leads to discoloration, which in turn obscures the amount of light produced by the headlight bulb. A vehicle’s headlights can show signs of deterioration as early as three to five years on new cars, according to the study.

“Degraded headlights are like a shade over a window,” Sinclair explained. “Some light will come through, but it’s greatly reduced.”

The AAA study compared headlights of two popular sedans, both about 11 years in age, to new, clear headlights and found with low beams, the older assemblies provided just 22 percent of the amount of light provided by new headlights that operate at full capacity. The average US car is about 11.6 years old.

“Driving at night with degraded headlights is a risk that drivers shouldn’t take,” said Sinclair. “Especially when there are solutions that can dramatically improve lighting performance.”

To restore 100 percent light output, the most effective — and most expensive — method is replacing the old headlights, says Sinclair. Less expensive aftermarket headlights are available from auto supply stores, but they registered light output between 83 and 90 percent, the research reported.

The most cost-effective — but not necessarily the best — option is using professional or DIY methods to restore existing headlights, which produce light output to about 70 percent. These methods, however, produce more glare than acceptable to ongoing traffic, the report said.

Unlike batteries or tires, Sinclair notes, most drivers don’t routinely inspect their headlights.

To minimize nighttime driving risks, AAA recommends drivers:

·         Routinely check headlights for signs of discoloration. If it’s difficult to see the bulb through the lens, replace or restore the assembly as soon as possible.

·         Make sure headlights are properly aimed to maximize lighting and minimize glare to oncoming motorists.

·         Contact an area repair shop such as a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility for replacement and restoration services.

·         Look into do-it-yourself restoration services, which offer some savings and are relatively simple, but realize they’re not the most effective method.