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Cars: Headlight Glare

Volume 827: debated on Monday 30 January 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to introduce regulations for car headlight glare to reduce the reported problem of drivers being dazzled, especially from LEDs.

My Lords, regulations are already in place to help prevent headlamps, including those using LED technology, causing dazzle and glare. Nevertheless, work is ongoing at an international level to develop and introduce improved headlamp aiming requirements. These are also likely to mandate automatic headlamp levelling systems on new cars.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, which is rather better than a rather complacent Written Answer she gave me. I am grateful for that, because the RAC has reported that nine out of 10 drivers think that some or most headlights are too bright and 90% of them say that they get dazzled. The SMMT is aware of this, as is the College of Optometrists, which assures me that it is not just elderly eyes such as mine that are affected but youngsters’ as well—as I see being confirmed around the Chamber. Will the Minister agree to meet with me and others interested in this matter to see whether we can make more rapid progress on issues such as the aiming height of lights?

I will certainly meet the noble Baroness and others who are interested in this. She mentioned the RAC survey, which was a survey—people were self-selecting in their responses. In 2018, research concluded that overall there are no direct adverse health effects from LED emissions in normal use. Indeed, they might reduce light sensitivity due to the absence of UV radiation. As I said, work is continuing on this. It is important that we look at the research, but we have pressed the UNECE to make further progress.

My Lords, the noble Baroness asked about new technology, but tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the introduction of seat-belt laws in the UK. They have saved many thousands of lives since, yet in 2021 30% of those killed in car accidents were not wearing their seat belts. The Prime Minister’s recent experience has revealed the importance of raising awareness. The current £100 fine with no penalty points is out of kilter with the fine for, for example, looking at your mobile phone, which is £200 and six penalty points. Will the Minister guarantee that the Government will review the law on seat belts with a view to introducing penalty points?

The Government are doing a significant amount of work on road safety. Indeed, I took much of that work forward in the three years that I was the Roads Minister. We will publish the road safety strategic framework in the spring. That will look at all different elements of road safety with a focus on how we can reduce deaths and serious injury.

My Lords, one thing that exacerbates headlight glare is that many cats’-eyes seem to be either not effective or not present at all. Can the Minister tell us what regulation there is to ensure that cats eyes are installed and maintained in working order?

I do not have information on the regulation of cats’-eyes to hand. However, I will happily write to the noble Lord with further details.

My Lords, when I was young long ago, it was considered right and courteous for motorists to dip their headlights for the benefit of others on the road. Is this practice still continuing or is it long out of date? I ask this question as a non-motorist.

My noble friend is quite right. One should not drive at another car with full-beam headlights on; it is right that they are dimmed. However, many vehicles nowadays have a manual system for levelling the aim of headlights; the problem is that not enough vehicle owners know how to use it. That is why we asked the UNECE to look very closely at the automatic systems that are available to see whether that would help.

My Lords, I return to the point on road markings and cats’-eyes. An awful lot of road junctions have become increasingly complex. Good road marking is crucial to finding your way around them, but it usually seems to be only white lines on dark surfaces, and there seems to be a world shortage of white paint. Over and over again, the best you can see is a shadow during the day; at night, particularly when it is wet, you are all alone trying to navigate the complexity.

My Lords, the Government set out guidelines for local authorities on road markings and all sorts of different things on the streets. We are currently looking at revising these but, of course, for most roads across the country, it is for local authorities to make sure that they are marked up appropriately.

My Lords, would not the solution to this issue be an automatic system that comes with any car purchased?

I am grateful to my noble friend, as that is precisely what we are looking at. Indeed, it was the UK that asked the UNECE to look at the automatic systems available, do the research and assess whether they should be implemented in new vehicles. The discussions on this matter will proceed in April 2023.

My Lords, the Minister says that her department is carrying out a review of road safety. Will it cover cyclists, who often travel with no lights, go through red lights, travel at high speeds and cause danger to the public?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Road safety is not just about motorists; it is about everybody who uses the roads, including cyclists and pedestrians. We need to make sure that all road users can interact safely with each other to try to reduce deaths.

The Minister seemed unconvinced by my noble friend Lady Hayter’s evidence of how motorists feel about dazzling lights coming towards them—it is certainly anecdotally the case from people I have spoken to—but, if she discounts my noble friend’s evidence, what evidence does the Minister’s department have on this issue, which seems to be of considerable concern?

I was just trying to point out that the evidence noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, was from a survey. The Department for Transport did scientific research into this matter in 2018. As I said, the conclusion overall was that there was no direct adverse health effect from LED light emissions. However, that does not mean that we do not continue to take a great interest in this. We recognise people’s concerns about dazzle and glare, which, indeed, is why we have pressed the international community to make some headway.

My Lords, I am not sure the health effects are the real problem. I have read that quite a few accidents have been caused by this, so maybe there is quite an urgency to the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.

I can provide some further evidence. Between 2010 and 2020, so a 10-year period, dazzle was a contributory factor—and indeed there can be many contributory factors; you do not just have to have one—in 0.25% to 0.34% of collisions. Far less than half a per cent have dazzle as a contributory factor. However, we have also looked at the trend over time and there has been no increase in the amount of dazzle caused. Again, we will continue to look at all evidence, but I can say that a very small number of collisions even have it as a contributory factor.

I am grateful to my noble friend. I do not know whether they can be retrofitted, but I will find out for him.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the complexity of road crossings. Does the Minister feel that the number of signs one comes across, for example in London—telling one that one cannot turn left, right, go straight on; where the cyclists go, what the parking is like, what the speed limit has changed to—are so numerous? Has there been any study into what a human being can understand without running people over because he is trying to look at them all?

Yes, there is something called sign blindness where you get too many signs and the brain gets overwhelmed. We are very conscious of that, and that is why we are looking again at our guidance to local authorities. In London, that would fall under the remit of the Mayor of London, so the noble Lord may wish to take it up with him. I am aware of some junctions near me that could certainly do with some attention.