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Car LED headlights glare linked to heart condition risks

  • Car LED headlights’ dazzling glare poses health risks, prompting government inquiry
  • Research reveals LED glare link to cardiovascular harm, migraines in drivers
  • Elderly and those with eye conditions particularly vulnerable to glare

Nighttime drivers are all too familiar with the terrifying sensation of being abruptly blinded by intense oncoming spotlights; in fact, 90% of drivers in the United Kingdom complain that modern vehicle lights are especially blinding.

Thus, many may find solace in the fact that the government will initiate an investigation into dazzlingly bright headlamps this month.

However, researchers suggest that addressing the issue of these lights could do more than enhance road safety; it could also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and headaches, especially among middle-aged and elderly drivers.

This action follows an anti-dazzle campaign initiated by the RAC and LightAware. A recent RAC survey of 2,000 motorists revealed that 85% of respondents believe headlamp glare worsens.

According to official data, bright headlamps have contributed to an average of 280 collisions per year on British roads since 2013.

The RAC attributes the increase in popularity of four-wheel-drive and SUV vehicles, which are elevated on the road and have lights that directly illuminate the eyes of the driver, to the introduction of more potent LED lights.

Contrast brightness, a perceptual phenomenon, also causes LED lamps to appear brighter than they are, according to research published in the Journal of Passenger Cars — Mechanical Systems.

When motorists were confronted with headlamps of equal power (LED and conventional), the LED group voiced dissatisfaction with the lights, claiming they were more dazzling.

According to the researchers, our minds evaluate brightness based on the contrast between a light source and the ambient light level. (A house lamp, for example, doesn’t appear particularly dazzling during the day but illuminates the room at night.)

According to the 2005 report, because LEDs are compact and emit narrow-edged beams instead of loosely focused traditional halogen-bulb headlamps, they produce a more pronounced contrast with the surrounding darkness, giving the impression of more excellent illumination. In addition, contemporary LED headlights emit approximately 6,000 lumens instead of 3,000 lumens for halogens, according to Dr. John Lincoln, a retired immunologist from LightAware, quoted in Good Health.

Research from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden indicates that this LED glare can induce stress, leading to cardiovascular harm.

They discovered glaring headlights could induce alarming alterations in young, healthy individuals. A study comprised 19 drivers under 40 exposed to five abrupt bursts of intense headlamp glare. One participant experienced a transient ventricular extrasystole, a heartbeat irregularity linked to myocardial infarction, which could have been life-threatening.

Drivers who are older and in poorer health may experience more adverse consequences. A 1998 study discovered that individuals in their mid-40s and above who exhibited signs of cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension, were also the most susceptible to sudden headlight glare and the most likely to experience cardiovascular reactions. This could be attributed to the bright lights’ heightened ‘fight or flight’ response.

Additionally, excessively bright headlamps may induce migraines, cautions Dr Lincoln: “The contrast brightness of LED headlamps induces visual stress.” This may induce migraine attacks in individuals afflicted with light-induced migraines, thereby impeding their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

According to Peter Heilig, an ophthalmology professor at Vienna University, such agony is a natural consequence of sudden blinding. Glare transmits a “Stop!” warning signal to the brain, analogous to the pain signal experienced when a joint is abruptly overstretched.

Dr. Lincoln states that LED headlamps are especially painful because “the intensity decreases more gradually than other lighting, rendering these lights blinding over greater distances.”

The intensity of glare pain is further exacerbated by the blue light wavelengths emitted by LEDs. This results in more significant discomfort compared to similar levels of light emitted by halogen lamps in the yellow spectrum, as indicated by research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States in 2007.

This is especially hazardous and blinding for the eyes of older people. Denise Voon, a clinical counsel to The College of Optometrists, explains: “You continue to see the afterimage even after you remove your gaze from the bright light.” Recoveries can take considerably longer for the elderly. According to the NHTSA, LED glare significantly lengthens the recuperation time of motorists.

The deterioration of light-sensitive rod cells, which contribute to excellent nighttime vision, causes a substantial decline in the eyes’ capacity to recover from glare after age 60.

Moreover, when we are overwhelmed, the minuscule muscles that regulate the size of our pupils (and the amount of light they let in) weaken, preventing them from rapidly recovering from closing tightly.

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This accounts for the NHSTA’s discovery that the recovery period for glare sensitivity in the eyes of elderly drivers could be up to ten seconds. At 60 mph, one must travel 268 metres, or the equivalent of two and a half football fields, without adequate vision.

In addition to this, cataracts occur when proteins within the lens undergo degradation, resulting in the formation of a cloudy lens. Volunteers with cataracts who were driving with a blinding headlamp were significantly more likely to miss a pedestrian crossing the road in time to avoid them, according to a 2018 Harvard University study.

LightAware urges the government to establish practical safety regulations for headlights, including restrictions on the quantity of blue-spectrum light.

Advocates advise motorists to divert their gaze from oncoming vehicles during nighttime by approximately 20 degrees to the right, in the direction of the white line on the road’s right side. In such situations, they should use their peripheral vision to perceive their immediate surroundings. Alternatively, one may purchase night-driving spectacles with a coating that blocks blue light.

And make regular visits to your optometrist, advises Denise Voon. Factors such as macular degeneration can significantly exacerbate the issue of headlight reflection, and prescription eyewear can have a significant impact.

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