Overdriving low-beam headlights

Seeing clearly at night

Have you ever given any thought to how far you can see at night as you are driving on the highway?

High beam headlights seem to overpower the dark, but there are a lot of situations where we are limited to using just the low beams. I was required to calculate the safe speed using only low-beam headlights at a seminar and I was surprised at the result.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says most headlight systems do not perform well. For the 2022 model year, about 40% of the systems tested are rated “marginal” or “poor” because of inadequate visibility, excessive glare from low beams for oncoming drivers, or both.

Yes, the IIHS is an American organization, but remember Canada pretty much rubber stamps the American standards and calls them ours.

Most drivers can see a dark object at night with low beam headlamps at a distance of 25 metres. The sight distance may be greater with some of the better quality systems.

The average perception and reaction time for a driver who is paying attention is about a second and a half. Using those facts, the result is a speed of about 40 kilometres per hour.

If you travel any faster, or don't pay full attention, you will collide with the object before stopping.

Dark objects such as pedestrians and deer are commonly found on the roads when we travel at night. Granted, there is other light to see by in towns and cities, but out of town approaching and passing other vehicles, we are hurtling along at 80 km/h and 90 km/h or more, and using only the low beams.

This seems to me to be a compelling reason to be a little more careful with our speed at night.

Now consider what could happen if one of your headlights were not working, or if both were so coated with dirt from winter driving that the full light output was not available. Complaints about vehicles with only one headlight are common and one only has to observe and count to see that is true.

For your own safety, it is well worth the time and money to keep your headlights clean and in proper working order.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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