There are a lot of problems in the world right now. This particular issue I’ve been having recently may seem petty and tiny in comparison with war, genocide or climate change. I might get called a nanny-stater. But it’s bothering me, I cannot be the only person having this problem, and it’s my column in the first place. So I’ll say it: Car headlights are too damn bright, and the government needs to do something about it.

I don’t have great eyesight to begin with – the glasses aren’t just to make me look smarter than I actually am – and, despite my age, it is worse at night. And because my girlfriend lives almost an hour away, I find myself driving at night a lot. It is absolutely terrifying when a car comes at me with those super-bright white LED beams on, temporarily blinding me for a few seconds while I frantically blink to try and clear the dots from my vision and let my pupils readjust to the darkness. And a few seconds is a lot when you’re going 40, 50, 60 miles an hour.

It’s not terrible on the highways; there are plenty of lanes and medians dividing me from oncoming headlights. And it’s not bad driving through well-lit towns, because the additional light from street lamps and businesses makes everything brighter. Where it’s the most problematic is narrow, winding, hilly country roads. And since I happen to live in rural Maine, that’s where most of my driving takes place.

At least on the straightaways I can see the high-beams coming and prepare. On twistier routes, I have no warning before a lighthouse on wheels pops over the crest of a hill straight into my eyeballs. And it’s terrifying. I can’t see anything for a few split seconds, and a few split seconds is all I might need to run off the road, or for an animal to dart in front of me, or for a car in front of me to stop suddenly, and then I’ve rear-ended them. We have narrow shoulders on most of our country roads. Maine is a state with an older demographic, many country lanes and a sun that sets at 4:30 p.m. in the winter.

I genuinely don’t know what to do when this happens. I slow down, of course. I’ve tried closing one eye when I see a car with dangerously bright headlights approaching, but that ruins my depth perception. I can try to cast my eyes to the side of the road, focusing on the white line, but then I’m not facing the primary direction you’re supposed to be watching while driving (forward). Plus, it’s minimally effective. The only solution available to me, a single driver, is to have my own headlights as bright and high-beam as possible, to outshine the other guy’s and to keep the road in front of me super-illuminated. And I don’t want to take that solution, because then I’m just giving the other driver the same problem I was having. It puts us all in danger.

Our country’s safety regulations regarding cars are pretty good at protecting the people inside the car. Take seat belts. But when it comes to people outside of a car, we’re lagging.


That’s one of the reasons that cars and trucks just keep getting bigger and bigger, even though vehicle size is linked to higher pedestrian fatality rates. Having the biggest vehicle in a situation makes the driver of that vehicle safer at the expense of the other parties involved. Vehicle size is also an issue with headlight glare – if I’m in a sedan or other smaller car, the headlights of a big truck or SUV are much more likely to be at eyeball level, especially for short people like myself. Another is the headlight color. The human eyeball perceives blue-white LED lights differently than the more yellow-tinted old fashioned halogen ones.

A ray of hope is finally coming down the road (puns intended). Adaptive driving beams are a piece of technology already on the road in Canada and Europe, which essentially use a computer to automatically shift the aim of the headlights away “occupied” areas of road (which may contain signs, pedestrians or other vehicles) and onto “unoccupied” areas, cutting down on glare.

They were prohibited in the U.S. until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finally issued a ruling in 2022 that will allow this technology in new models of American cars. But Maine isn’t always the fastest to adapt to new trends, and I’m not holding out hope that the situation on my streets will improve anytime soon.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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