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Misaligned Headlights Can Be Hazard to Night Drivers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

Halogen headlights on some cars are so bright that while driving at night, I can’t see the road too well because of the spots they form before my eyes for a few seconds. This goes for cars behind me, too. I’m unable to see out of my side and rearview mirrors. If cars have both high beams and fog lights on, then I’m really blinded.

Is it my eyes, or do other people notice this? I started using night-driving glasses, and they have helped cut the brightness.

Gina Keith, Garden Grove

I agree with you that some headlights can be blinding. However, don’t blame the particular type of headlight. The problem is that many cars have their lights out of alignment, according to California Highway Patrol Sgt. Bill Snell.

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When aimed correctly, headlights should not bother other motorists, no matter how bright they are, Snell said. But few people put headlight alignment at the top of their car maintenance lists.

“People change their tires and their oil, but they don’t adjust their headlights,” Snell said.

Car owners should be more concerned about checking those lights--the law requires that they be aimed correctly. Unfortunately, police do not check headlights as often as in the past, Snell said.

“Years ago, when we had the old inspection lanes, that was one of the targeted equipment violations that we used to check for,” Snell explained.

The law aside, it is safer and courteous to have lights that are not blinding. Snell said that new car owners should have their headlights checked after a few thousand miles of driving, in case they have settled out of their factory settings. Those with older cars should do so each year before winter sets in, to ensure that their lights are properly aimed before the foggy days begin, Snell said.

Since misaligned headlights seem to be an inevitable part of night driving, here are some tips on dealing with them:

* If an approaching vehicle does not dim its high beams, flick yours on briefly, to remind the other driver. If this should fail to work, protect your vision by not looking into the lights--watch the right side of the road until the car passes.

* For cars behind with bright lights, flip your mirror to the night setting. That may help cut the brightness.

* Keep your windows clean. A thin film will develop on the windows of most cars, and this can make glare worse, Snell said.

* Don’t get even by putting your high beams on. Doing this to approaching cars may cause an accident, Snell said, and doing it to cars with bright lights that have passed you may only confuse the other driver and perhaps provoke a confrontation.

As for night-driving glasses, Snell does not recommend them because they reduce your vision. He said it might be best to check with an optometrist, if you feel glasses are necessary.

Dear Street Smart:

Van pools will sometimes drive alongside traffic on Jamboree Road in Irvine that is waiting to enter the southbound ramp to the San Diego Freeway, then cross over the solid white line between the lanes to reach the car-pool side of the freeway ramp. Is it legal to cut in and go over the solid white line? It seems to me unsafe and reckless.

Rene Valentijn, Rancho Santa Margarita

It may seem illegal, but it’s not against the law to cross over a solid white line. Such lines warn that changing lanes may be unsafe, but they are not a bar against moving across, according to Irvine Police Sgt. Al Murray.

Of course, unsafe lane changes can garner drivers a ticket. But in this situation, the van-pool drivers are probably making safe lane changes, Murray said.

As you note, cars back up along Jamboree--the meter on the freeway ramp creates a queue. The van drivers bypass the stalled cars by driving in an adjoining lane.

When the drivers finally cross over, it’s at a point where they can move directly into the half of the freeway ramp reserved for car-pools. That half of the ramp is apparently free of traffic, and as long as the drivers have not caused other vehicles to stop or slow, they’ve made a legal lane change, Murray said.

However, if they were trying to squeeze into a lane jammed full of cars, they could get a ticket, according to Murray.

“Those are the types of maneuvers that will cause a four- or five-car collision, Murray said.

You describe a unique situation, it seems. Certainly, it is not wise to dash over solid white lines, nor to make daring lane changes. But the drivers are using their knowledge to reach that free lane.

“They’re familiar with the area and make maneuvers as advantageous as possible,” Murray said.

Murray said that Irvine is trying to get Caltrans to speed up the meter, so that cars will not back up along Jamboree as much. However, Caltrans gives greater weight to preventing a backup on the freeway, Murray said. A standoff of sorts over the issue now exists, he said.

By the way, while crossing one solid white line may be OK, crossing two is illegal--they represent an area cars cannot use.

Do you drive along the Santa Ana Freeway between the El Toro Y and the Costa Mesa Freeway interchange? There’s still time to pick up goodies for ride-sharing.

A Caltrans-Orange County Transportation Authority program for commuters in that area offers free gasoline vouchers, bus tickets and discounted rail passes to new ride-sharers through January.

A similar program offers incentives to Riverside Freeway commuters who are westbound and travel through the construction zone between Magnolia Avenue in Riverside and the Orange Freeway between morning rush hours.

Give OCTA a call at (714) 638-9000, Ext. 3318, for the Santa Ana Freeway program. Call the Riverside County Transportation Commission at (714) 422-8091 for the Riverside Freeway program.


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