This is a page about unecessary, overly bright Daytime Running Lights that started with Saturn and are spreading to other vehicles like a disease. And about headlights that in general have become far, far too bright.

Please take a moment to answer a few questions in our survey just down the page.

I was driving down the freeway the other day. It was a clear day with a blue sky and excellent visibility. Then a Saturn pulled into the lane behind me. Now this car had someone's idea of a safety feature called "Daytime Running Lights". Why is it a safety feature? Do I not see the car behind me unless it has headlights on?

Now the lights on this Saturn are actually quite bright even though they are supposedly running at reduced brightness. And they are very annoying. So to avoid the glare every time I look in the mirror, I have to switch my rear view mirror to night mode. That helps with the car directly behind me but now all the other cars behind me are much more difficult to see.

What if you have a car that has an automatic dimming rear view mirror that does nothing during daylight? Do you angle the mirror down and not see anybody behind or put up with the annoying and distracting glare as long as the offending car is behind you? Or do you slow down in order to force the car to change lanes or pass?

Why Is It Safer?

So just exactly how have those Daytime Running Lights increased safety? Sure I can see the car directly behind me but now everyone else is more difficult to see. And even if the DRLs were not annoying (on some cars they're not), how does having them increase safety? Do I see a car only if it has headlights on?

There was a time when having headlights on during the day was a safety feature. Before Daytime Running Lights, if you were driving down the road and you started seeing cars coming toward you with their headlights on it usually meant something. Usually it meant that there was reduced visibility ahead. Most often rain, fog, haze or snow. Or it could have been because cars were directed to turn their headlights on because of a high accident area.

Either way the reason it increased safety was not just because the headlights were on -- But because the headlights were on when they normally wouldn't be. It was out of the ordinary. "Why are those lights on?" "What's going on ahead?" Those were the kind of thoughts you might have when seeing the lights on during the day when they normally wouldn't be.

It was a safety feature also because someone turned them on. So anyone who turned their lights on during the day was thinking safety. Many people who saw the headlights on approaching cars might also have thought safety -- there's something ahead.

And what does it mean now? Absolutely nothing. It means nothing because there are so many headlights that are always on now. There's nothing unusual to make you think. And they weren't turned on because of some road or weather condition. They're just always on.

To have headlights on in the daytime be a safety feature, they need to not always be on but rather be turned on when conditions warrant. If auto manufacturers wanted to make a safety feature out of that, why not tie the headlights into the windshield wipers. To avoid being turned on whenever someone just cleans their windshield, have the headlights come on whenever the windshield wipers are on for more than say 30 seconds. And then stay on for a couple of minutes after they've been turned off. Something like that would at least have the headlights on during periods of visual impairment and off the rest of the time.

Why Are They So Bright?

Although they are supposed to be operating at reduced brightness, they sure seem bright when you're in their focal spot. Quite annoying. Most of the GM DRLs are the same -- annoyingly bright. In fact the GM Daytime Running Lights operating at reduced brightness are brighter than some other cars with their headlights on full. I've seen Big Rig trucks with headlights that were no where near as annoying as most GM small pickups and Saturns. Is the intention to be annoying in order to be seen? I don't think so. There are several models of GM cars that use the amber turn signal lights. These by the way are bright enough to be seen yet are not annoying like the others. So if the intent was to be annoying to be seen then you would think that they would be consistent across the entire line of cars and trucks.

No I think the reason the daytime headlights are annoyingly bright is simply because the company doesn't care. They have either poor design standards or they are unconscious. Or maybe a little of both. The fact that some car manufacturers are able to design headlights that at full brightness are glare-free indicates that it must not be a very difficult task. Companies like GM and Toyota have more than enough resources to design headlights without any glare. They just choose not to.

And It's Not Just GM

No it's not just GM. They just started it and make more cars than just about anybody else. Ford headlights have been terrible for years. Both cars and trucks. Their trucks have been especially bad. Ever see a Ford truck at a stop light behind a regular size car? Their headlights seem to light up the passenger compartment like it was daylight. Why do they think they can move a headlight 10 or 12 inches higher and then still aim it straight ahead? Hasn't there been just one Ford executive sitting at an intersection in Dearborn with a Ford truck behind him who questioned that maybe those headlights were a little too bright? I had a friend who owned a Ford pickup truck. He used to turn his headlights off at stoplights sometimes because he didn't like the hand gestures he would sometimes get in the mirror.

Toyota seems to be just about as bad as GM. The newer Camry, Celica, Highlander and some other models have daytime headlights that are just as bright as any of the GMs.

And What's Going On With GM's New Petition?

GM has recently petitioned the NHTSA to make Daytime Running Lights mandatory for all vehicles. Now what's going on with that? Why in the world would they want to have them made mandatory except to legitimize the stupidness that they started. What better way to save their image that to have them sanctioned by the NHTSA. I read somewhere recently that above all else, GM wants Saturn to be associated with safety. Seems like Marketing might be in the driver's seat on this one.

And doesnt' it sound just a little suspicious that an auto company is petitioning the government to adopt [what they are calling] a safety feature? Has that happened before? Did the car companies petition to install seatbelts? Air bags?

NHTSA -- Don't do it! They may have duped the agency when they petitioned to have them in the first place but this is your chance to make things right.

Give them an easy "face saving" way out. Have someone high enough up in the agency call a VP at GM and tell them that you are not only going to rule against their petition but in addition you are going to make them fix the vehicles already out in the field. Then GM can issue a press release stating that after studying the situation further, they are reversing their previous position on DRLs and will be voluntarily removing them from all vehicles. And they can then even petition the NHTSA to take that position for all manufacturers.

The UK Prime Minister and government are supportive of a stance against Daytime Running Lights

"The UK Government is opposed both to mandatory daytime dipped headlamp use and to mandatory dedicated daytime running light (DRL) use (except where required by poor visibility, eg fog) for a number of reasons. These include questions over the safety of vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians. Other concerns are the accuracy of overall cost: benefit analysis figures, increased motoring expenses and increased carbon dioxide emissions"   [Feb 2007 View UK statement]

Just a Word About The New HID Headlights

Ban them, ban them, ban them. Some are bad and some are unconscionable. If you've ever had a BMW SUV come around a bend and been blinded by their HID headlights then you know what I mean. Getting blinded by those lights makes you want to get out and smash them with a hammer. Just what exactly are they thinking. I think with BMW and Audi it's almost a kind of arrogance. If you can afford one of their cars then you deserve to see farther than anyone else regardless of who gets blinded in the process.

Maybe The Government Needs To Actually Get Involved

I would think that by now it's fairly obvious that the industry is not capable of acting within the guidelines that they have been given. The NHTSA has a rule governing headlight glare. Imagine a horizontal line across the center of a round or oval headlight. The light above that line is supposed to be "soft", or more diffused, to illuminate higher objects along the road without blinding an oncoming driver. The light below the line is more intense to illuminate the road ahead.

One of the problems with that has to do with the height of the headlight above the roadway. If you move a headlight 10 or 12 inches higher as with a pickup truck or SUV, do you still use just the horizontal line rule? Just because a vehicle is a little higher off the road doesn't mean it's headlights need to be like searchlights. I've seen big rigs that are less annoying that Ford pickups.

And what about glare to the side. You can be one lane either side of and several cars in front of a Toyota Tundra and get hit by a very bright glare from the corner of it's headlight. A glare that's brighter and more annoying than being directly in front of the vehicle.

Lighting Needs To Be Treated Like A System

What would be wrong with imposing absolute limits on headlight output. What would be wrong with the government "Qualifying" a manufacturers headlight design. A very simple test field could be established that sets specific light intensity levels for specific areas of the headlight field of view. So for example there would be a "mapping" of the area in front of a test car that's three cars wide and maybe ten car lengths long. For any point in that field there would be maximum allowable light intensity levels. These levels would be measured from ground level so it wouldn't matter what kind of car or truck was being tested. They would all have to meet the same light intensity levels from ground up.

And the lighting system should include all lighting. Why not solve it as a system problem that involves Daytime Running Lights, regular headlights, HID headlights and auxiliary lights. Might as well include motorcycle lighting as well. It seems that because of Daytime Running Lights that are always on, motorcycles are not as easy to spot. So instead of operating with regular headlights like they've done for years, many seem to be using their brights full time. So how has that contributed to safety.

Car and truck manufacturers have demonstrated that headlight regulation cannot be left up to them. You don't have to be an industry expert or even know very much about lighting design. All you have to do is drive day or night and see the results.

This Says It All

Here are comments submitted [NHTSA-2001-8885-1757] by Richard Helpern, M.D.

"Bright and extra headlights are causing stress and I am seeing the results in my practice. Not a single patient knew about this [http://dms.dot.gov] site. Millions of people would like to see some action taken. Being confronted with a bright distracting light triggers a fight or flight response. The result is high blood pressure, stress, blood sugar increase, not to mention the added risk of eye disease. Unnecessary distracting and blinding lights are a hazard. You will actually be doing the manufactures a favor by nipping this in the bud soon as there is no doubt in my mind they and you will be liable for the damage that is resulting from this. To take a blind eye to this is not only negligent but criminal in my opinion. The eye is the most sensitive of all our senses. It is easily damaged as well as the most easily distracted. All this extra lighting is causing accidents, not preventing them. I have spoken to many people about this issue and every single one of them agrees with me. I have yet to speak to a single person who was in favor of these lights. They all said they annoyed them. Annoyance is the least of it. The only proper and indeed ethical course of action is regulate now."