Safe Stopping Distances and Headlights

Author: Paul D. Hux, Chesterfield, VA Personal Injury Attorney

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) revealed that most automobile headlamps are inadequate on low-beam setting for drivers to safely react to obstacles in the roadway. According to AAA’s research, it takes approximately 500 feet for a vehicle traveling 55 miles per hour to identify, react to, and safely stop before encountering an obstacle.[1] However, halogen headlamps, installed in about 80% of U.S. automobiles, only illuminate up to around 300 feet in front of each vehicle while on the low-beam setting. High-intensity discharge lights reach about 400 feet while light-emitting diode lights fall close to 450 feet. They still all fall below the 500-foot threshold.[2]

While this is a concern for drivers, there is no easy fix. Better headlight technology is being invented and tested, but it is unlikely to be available for widespread use in the near future. As a result, drivers must take precautions and be smart about their headlight usage while on the road.

Headlight Use Safety Tips

Some tips for improving safety through better headlight usage include:

  • cleaning the lamps often,
  • using them in the proper settings and situations,
  • being aware of how their use might affect other drivers

Headlight Care and Cleaning

Driving a vehicle can cause the headlamp covers to become yellowed, dirty and pitted, decreasing their effectiveness on the road. Not only does this decrease light output, but it can also divert light away from the road by scattering the beams in other directions. Kits for cleaning and restoring the lights can be found in most auto parts stores, and AAA has found them to double maximum headlight intensity while reducing glare by up to 60%.[3] Keeping headlamps clean is a simple way to improve efficiency at a low cost and with minimal effort.

Headlight Use in Fog and Inclement Weather

While it is obvious that headlights should be used at night, they have other uses that can increase safety on the roads. In fog, the use of high-beam lights can actually lessen visibility due to the light reflecting back off the fog. Low-beams and fog lights give a driver better visibility, and they are also more visible to oncoming drivers in foggy conditions, alerting them of a vehicle’s presence even if they cannot see the car itself. Similarly, headlamps should be used in inclement weather to increase visibility and alert other drivers.[4]

Given the different types of headlamps on cars and their varying conditions, one driver may not have the same level of visibility as another. This problem can be compounded by bright-lighting another driver or by not using headlights until it is already dark. It is important for drivers to be courteous to others on the road by not following too closely, switching to low-beams at an appropriate distance, and turning on their headlights when visibility starts to decrease.[5]

Until better technology becomes available, drivers will be at risk of inadequate headlights. However, they can reduce that risk by knowing what dangers exist and taking steps to reduce the likelihood that they will occur.

About the Author: Paul Hux is a partner and trial attorney at Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen. His practice is dedicated entirely to plantiff's personal injury, including car accidents, wrongful death, and traumatic brain injuries. Paul works in the firm's Chesterfield office and has been practicing personal injury law for more than 20 years.


[1] http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/lifestyles/you-can-outrun-your-headlights/nmfbb/

[2] http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/lifestyles/you-can-outrun-your-headlights/nmfbb/; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2015/06/12/auto-headlamps-found-to-be-dangerously-dim/

[3] http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/lifestyles/you-can-outrun-your-headlights/nmfbb/; http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2015/06/12/auto-headlamps-found-to-be-dangerously-dim/

[4] http://www.reddrivingschool.com/2010/11/car-headlights-when-to-use-and-when-not-to-use/; https://mobiloil.com/en/article/travel-and-safety/travel-safety-tips-archive/smart-lighting-system-and-nighttime-driving-safety-tips

[5] http://www.reddrivingschool.com/2010/11/car-headlights-when-to-use-and-when-not-to-use/; https://mobiloil.com/en/article/travel-and-safety/travel-safety-tips-archive/smart-lighting-system-and-nighttime-driving-safety-tips

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