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Are headlights getting brighter? Experts say not exactly

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- When you're driving on a dark road, oncoming headlights can seem blinding. But are they actually brighter than they used to be?

According to AAA's Car Doctor John Paul, the answer is not really.

"They’re not necessarily brighter, but they’re a different color light," Paul explained.

Halogen headlights on older vehicles have more of a yellow tint. On newer vehicles, high-intensity xenon and LED headlights appear to be bright white or blue.

Thousands of people have complained about bright headlights to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"I get temporarily blinded," one driver wrote.

"I find certain headlamps to be actually dangerously bright," another said.

Dr. Laura Lakin hears similar concerns from her patients.

"All the time!" she said.

Though the “blinding” light may be uncomfortable, Lakin says it’s no less safe than the light from older style headlights.

"The disability glare, which is glare that actually keeps you from being able to see objects is about the same," Lakin said. "The discomfort glare, it doesn’t keep you from seeing anything but it’s definitely perceived as annoying, is much worse with these."

Lakin says dry eyes can make the discomfort glare worse.

"It's like looking through a wet windshield before you turn on the wipers," she said. "It’s all uneven and  the light ends up scattering, so that’s why with the headlights, it makes it feel brighter."

"The light’s not going where it’s supposed to be," Lakin added.

Age-related problems like cataracts can also contribute to glare.

"Divert your eyes to the right side of the road," Paul suggested. "That line along the right side of the road is called the fog line and that way you can look at that, stay centered on the roadway, look back and your eyes will be able to adjust a lot quicker."

Lakin says you can also point your vents down. That will keep air from blowing directly into your eyes, which could prevent them from drying out while you're driving.

If bright headlights are more than just an annoyance, it's time to schedule an appointment with to the eye doctor.

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