Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blinded By the Light

Because of my job, I'm on the road at night. There are many irritations associated with driving, but I think the biggest driving peeve I have has to be fog lights, especially on SUVs.

The problem is that most people who have the damned things don't restrict their use to foggy nights; they use them all the time. In essence, these people have four headlights, not fog lights which would be properly used with their regular headlights in foggy weather.

I have a sports car that sits low to the ground. An SUV, with all four of these lights blazing, approaching me will blind the hell out of me to the point of me sometimes having to stop the car until they get by. I sincerely hope that no one will ever choose to walk out in front of my car at those moments; as I'd likely not be able to see them. And there is no way in the world to find an intersection where I wanted to turn left, when they pass by, either.

In the case of the ones coming up behind me, they'll throw a glare into my rear view mirrors and into my face, plus they light up the interior of my car. Again, it reduces what I can see in front of me, particularly if I'm trying to hunt an address number on a mailbox or house. Instead of putting up with one of these obnoxious drivers riding my ass, I pull over and motion to go around me.

On large SUVs, the headlights are mounted higher than on cars. Large SUVs have headlights mounted 36 to 39 inches above the ground - the same height as the side mirror on a small car. The glare from SUVs' headlights can appear to other drivers as bright as high beams. Glare can be 10 to 20 times worse than recommended levels when headlights are at the height of a driver's eyes or side mirror, according to a study by the Society of Automotive Engineers

While browsing the net, I found many sites where people were complaining about this very thing, so I know it's not just me. I also found out that improperly using fog lights when the weather conditions don't warrant it is prohibited in the UK.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration takes this problem seriously as well. In a report about headlight glare, they said, in part:

2.4 - Glare from Fog Lamps, Driving Lamps, and Auxiliary Low Beam Headlamps

Fog lamps, driving lamps, and auxiliary low beam headlamps are lamps used in addition to the normally required headlamps. These lamps have been identified in state laws for decades as being allowed to be used under certain conditions of visibility.

Driving lamps are lamps not intended for general driving, but are intended to supplement the upper beam headlamps... they should never be used under conditions that do not permit the use of upper beam headlamps.

Because of fog lamps' limited performance, they by design will not markedly improve seeing under normal conditions.

These auxiliary lamps are now becoming a source of complaint for glare. Often described as another set of headlamps, sometimes mounted lower, the public reports that these lamps seem to be used all the time at night. In fact, research has now documented that the public is right. Sivak et. al. reported that fog lamps were in fact used much more often than was appropriate for the conditions... (see Sivak, M.; Flannagan, M. J.; Traube, E. C.; Hashimoto, H.; Kojima, S. 1997, "Fog lamps: Frequency of Installation and Nature of Use," No. UMTRI-96-31, available as Docket NHTSA-1998-8885-1).

This documented misuse of fog lamps in particular helps substantiate the complaints that NHTSA has been receiving. NHTSA has had complaints about fog lamp use for a while, but never so many as recently... Because of the significant increase in complaints, NHTSA plans to propose action independently of outdated industry standards for fog, auxiliary and driving lamps to regulate these at the federal level.

So, in closing, I would urge drivers in vehicles equipped with fog lights to treat them like high beams and to limit their use to only when it's foggy out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On the flip side...
many are finding extremely poor optics in newer aerodynamic design headlamps. Add to that manufactures that compromise optics further by making a dual lamp function vs a 4 lamp.

Those running around with their fogs on are not doing it to irritate other drivers, they are in search of more light as what is available is scattered everywhere leaving little left for the roadway. It doesn't make it right but when I see them with fogs on and no fog I blame the manufacture for poor low beam optics.