Why Are Many Modern Car Headlights Ineffective In Indian Driving Conditions?
Recently I was driving on a dark and rainy night on a highway. Visibility was low and the wipers were running at full speed and though I had both the headlights and factory fitted fog lights switched on, I found that the illumination provided by them was insufficient for safe motoring at highway speeds. So I was forced to drop my speed from 100kmph (the permitted speed limit on that highway) to about 70 kmph.
Though modern car headlights have become very advanced, quite often the beam is narrow and does not light up enough of the road. Photo by Hamid Khaleghi on Unsplash.
Headlights have been around since the invention of the automobile. They have gradually evolved and after the introduction of sealed beams and also halogen bulbs, most cars had similiar headlights. But in the last two to three decades, they have changed rapidly and now most modern cars come with either fancily shaped adaptive laser units or xenon or LED (Light Emitting Diode) headlights with projector or reflector type housings or casings.
LED headlights are getting increasingly popular as they can be fashioned into various shapes and sizes.
Yes, the halogen bulb headlight and fog light has been almost totally replaced by LEDs. And projector lights, which have lenses that act as magnifying glasses, are also fast displacing reflector housings.
Slim, long, slender, sharp, curving, round, square, oval- you name it and you can now make headlights in whatever shape and size you want.
LED lights are not just more energy efficient, but are also much brighter and though they are more expensive, they last longer too. But I find that these headlights, particularly the projector type ones, do not have as wide, or as good a beam pattern as some earlier lights. They maybe more powerful and luminous, but their narrower beam pattern does not cover enough of the road surface area. And in my experience of night driving on our unpredictable roads with constantly changing driving conditions, a broader beam pattern that efficiently lights more of the road, is necessary.
Adaptive LED lights are popular on premium cars. Photo by Bhumil Chheda on Unsplash.
In fact in my opinion, the beam pattern of all headlights and fog lights fitted on cars sold in India should be specifically designed for our unique driving conditions and requirements. In our country, roads are used by vehicles of all sizes and types, with varying speed levels. We also have cyclists, rickshaws, bullock carts, hand carts, horse carriages, cattle, animals and of course people, all either moving on or running across our roads. In the evenings, you also find buffaloes sitting or sleeping on our highways. Spotting them in time is most important, especially when its dark or visibility is low.
Such headlights with incandescent bulbs are now a thing of the past and only found on classic cars. Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.
I understand that LEDs are now preferred by car manufacturers, because they are more versatile and can be formed in a very large number of intricate shapes and sizes. And that is why designers now use LED lights as jewelry or adornments on cars to distinguish and decorate them. But in my view, function should get priority over form, particularly in components as important as headlights and fog lights. Given this, and how many of us take the performance of headlights and fog lights for granted, I appeal to Indian automotive manufactures to test their lights and design the beams, based on the demands of Indian roads and driving conditions. I also appreciate that the headlights should not have a beam that blinds oncoming vehicles, but this should not be at the cost of proper visibility for the driver. And getting this balance right is of utmost importance, especially in our chaotic and less then perfect driving conditions.
Most modern car lights are also used by designers as adornments or glass jewelry, to decorate and distinguish a car. Photo by Olav Tvedt on Unsplash.
Therefore, I would like to see headlamps that on low beam have an almost 100 to 180 degree spread with no black or dark spots in between. And in the center, where the beams of both headlights meet, there should be some overlap to make the center portion ahead of the driver brighter. But at the same time one should also be able to see beyond the edges of the road. Because in India, we often have vehicles, people or animals, suddenly darting out from the sides onto the road. Such a wide spread of light will also be useful on twisty roads as the driver would spot the curves earlier and be able to steer more confidently.
Projector headlamps have become very popular too.
And on full beam, or upper, as many drivers refer to it, I would like a long range of at least 500 feet with a bright puddle or pool of light, where beams of both headlights merge. The joint beam of both headlights should have an oval or teardrop shape, and must also illuminate the left edge of the road and slightly beyond if possible, as we are a right hand drive nation and need to be alert of what is on the left.
But they do not have the kind of broad beam offered by such reflector type headlights. Photo by Niels Baars on Unsplash.
Another thing I have noticed is that nowadays, in many cars with modern design, the DRLs are placed above the front grille, with the headlights being located either alongside or below the grille. Due to this new styling trend, the headlights are situated closer to the ground and lack the height for the beam to have a longer range.
And while modern headlights are definitely brighter and more energy efficient, many don't have the kind of wide beam pattern required in Indian driving conditions.
They also get dirty fairly quickly and because of all this, I find the headlights in most new cars to be inadequate for night driving, especially on highways. As a matter of fact if I am driving fast, I quite often feel I am overdriving (pun intended) the headlights, and speeding beyond their range and lighting capacity.
A magnifying glass helps project the beam from a projector light. But in most cases they project a somewhat narrow beam.
In short, the full beam of headlights in India needs to have a broader spread than what is required in most other parts of the world. And the low beam also needs to disperse the light wider for better frontal and horizontal visibility. It's almost like having headlights that are a combination of wide angle and zoom camera lenses! And of course, the beams should be correctly aimed and focused at the road, because if the light is not falling where it's meant to, and does not enhance overall visibility while driving, it's useless.
The modern trend of placing headlights low in the bumper means they get dirty very quickly, and this makes them even more ineffective.