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Cars with varying degrees of headlight glare are stopped at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street.

Blinding headlights dazzle Vancouver drivers

But police don’t see glare as a significant problem on the roads

By Steven Zhu , in City , on November 20, 2019

If you’ve ever been blinded by glaring headlights while driving at night, you’re not alone.

Jenny Chandhok, a retired realtor, drives only once or twice a week on occasional errands, but she regularly encounters extremely bright headlights in oncoming traffic in the evenings.

“I have to slow down whenever that happens,” she said, “and it’s usually the big SUVs that do it.”

Blinding headlights are a problem that many people are experiencing on the roads. Many Vancouver drivers have taken to online forums such as Reddit to voice their frustrations.

“My car is lit up like daytime when a pickup is behind me. Their lights really hit perfectly in all the mirrors,” Reddit user crowdedinhere lamented in a thread in the /r/vancouver subforum.

Cars with intense headlight glare cruise down West 49th Avenue in Kerrisdale.

A 2004 U.S. Department of Transportation study on drivers’ perceptions of headlight glare found that a majority (54 per cent) of respondents rated headlight glare as “noticeable but acceptable” while a sizeable minority (30 per cent) described nighttime glare as “disturbing.”

In a 2019 U.K. survey by RAC, a British automotive services company, 91 per cent of respondents said some or most car headlights are too bright.

However, B.C. court records and ICBC collision statistics don’t provide any information on the role of headlights in causing accidents and accident-related fatalities.

Vancouver police don’t consider headlight glare a high priority

Vancouver police department spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said that, while blinding headlights are annoying, they are not a significant problem for the police. She did not specify how often officers enforce headlight violations.

“Our traffic unit focuses their efforts on road safety, which includes Criminal Code driving offences, pedestrian safety, and collision investigations,” Visintin said.

However, one retired RCMP officer said that many officers did not have the technical knowledge to confidently enforce headlight violations. 

“A lot of this stuff is self-taught or learned by following a commercial-vehicle safety inspector,” said Tim Schewe, who spent 20 years in the RCMP traffic service. As part of his traffic duty, Schewe would conduct defect enforcement about once a month during road checks and look for improper vehicle equipment such as headlights.

Illegal modifications easily bypass Transport Canada rules

One experienced auto mechanic said excessive glare can be caused by drivers who, knowingly or not, make illegal after-market modifications to their headlights that circumvent Transport Canada’s headlamp regulations.

“When drivers decide to upgrade their headlights, they may lack the technical knowledge to properly install them,” said Philip Siu, who has serviced and repaired cars for over 30 years and regularly installs headlamps.

A mismatch between the headlamp and its reflector produces bright, misaimed beams.

B.C. Motor Vehicle Act regulations specify that it is illegal to place LED (light-emitting diode) and HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamps in reflector housings that aren’t rated for their use.

However, LED and HID lamps are readily available at hardware and car accessory stores. It’s not clear what proportion of Vancouver drivers choose to customize their headlights.

Even when drivers use the correct bulbs and defer to professionals to replace their headlights, mechanics may not install the lights properly.

“Most body shops don’t have the equipment to properly align the headlights,” Siu said, “so when people replace them after a collision, they can end up with misaligned headlights.”

A common refrain among drivers like Jenny Chandhok who are concerned about headlight glare is a call for action, even if they might not know where that action should come from.

“They should do something about it.”