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Safety Panel Considers New Headlight Rules

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From Associated Press

The federal government is considering new standards for headlights after a spike in complaints from motorists who say they’ve been blinded by oncoming vehicles.

Authorities say the increase in complaints can be traced to the proliferation of sport-utility vehicles and pickups, and more vehicles with high-intensity headlights and fog lights.

“New technologies allow headlighting to be more robust than in the past,” Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a statement. “While such technologies can be beneficial for drivers, we must be certain the public is protected from high levels of glare.”

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Mineta said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will look into whether new standards for headlights are needed.

NHTSA officials say few if any crashes are directly caused by headlights. But they say that glare can increase stress for a driver and reduce visibility, which can result in more accidents.

Many complaints to the agency involve high-intensity discharge lamps, which emit a bluish hue and are brighter than traditional halogen lights. The lamps have been offered as a $400 to $800 option on several luxury vehicles. Cheaper imitations that use tinted glass or colored bulbs also are available, some that meet federal standards and some that are illegal.

Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said companies that make the imitation lights are causing most of the problems and new regulations should focus on them.

But the NHTSA says auto makers may need to change their designs to reduce glare. In the request for public comment published Wednesday, the agency suggested lowering the height of headlights on light trucks, which include pickups, SUVs and vans.

Federal law says that headlights cannot be higher than 54 inches. The standard was set in 1968, when most passenger vehicles were cars. Today about half of all vehicles sold are light trucks, which can have headlights much higher than those on cars.

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