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Lighting Research Center
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Troy, NY -  6/1/2001

High-Intensity-Discharge Headlights Improve Visibility Study at Lighting Research Center cites safety benefits while acknowledging complaints of increased glare

Researchers at the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are studying HID (high-intensity-discharge) headlights, those bright bluish or greenish headlights now seen on more expensive European imports cars. The headlights are raising concerns nationwide from drivers who complain about blinding glare.

LRC researchers John Van Derlofske, John D. Bullough and Claudia M. Hunter, reported their findings at a recent world congress of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Their study was commissioned by Philips Automotive Lighting, an LRC Partner and a major manufacturer of HID lamps.

Van Derlofske is the head of transportation lighting at the Lighting Research Center. He says HID headlamps enable drivers to see more effectively at night than conventional tungsten-halogen lights. His team conducted field experiments in which drivers responded to objects in their field of vision while using both sorts of lighting. Their study concluded that drivers using HIDs were better at "detecting edge-of-roadway hazards, such as pedestrians and animals."

"They (HID headlamps) produce more light, last longer, and use less energy," Van Derlofske said. "There's no question they result in better visual performance. We have now quantified that."

His colleague, John Bullough, explained the study in a news report on NBC TV's Nightly News with Tom Brokaw on June 12. That story highlighted the controversy over the lights, commonly referred to as "xenon" headlights. Drivers are complaining that the new xenon or HID lights blind them as they approach vehicles equipped with them.

But, there is another side of the story. Because HID lamps produce a wider beam, drivers can see better along the sides of the road, says Bullough. "That wider beam allows drivers to see pedestrians or animals that may not quite be on the road, but might be approaching it," Bullough said. "So there are some potential benefits in terms of safety for the drivers who have these lamps." That benefit would extend to people walking along the roadway as well.

HID headlamps are widely used in European automobiles and are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. With the growing numbers of HID headlamps, however, come growing numbers of complaints-more than one hundred to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is calling for more studies. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration weighed in on the issue, ruling that HIDs do not exceed maximum illumination standards. But debate over the pros and cons of the bright headlamps is growing nationwide, capturing the attention of news media. The LRC report was also mentioned in a June 7 article in USA Today that examined the controversy over HID headlamps.

While citing HID benefits, the study at the Lighting Research Center, acknowledges criticisms leveled against the lamps. The report said the same properties that allow HID systems to produce greater visual performance may cause them to produce more glare, and it urges further study to quantify HID glare. "The problem with glare," says John Van Derlofske, "should be weighed against the improved visual benefits."


About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world's leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC has been pioneering research in solid-state lighting, light and health, transportation lighting and safety, and energy efficiency for nearly 30 years. LRC lighting scientists with multidisciplinary expertise in research, technology, design, and human factors, collaborate with a global network of leading manufacturers and government agencies, developing innovative lighting solutions for projects that range from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to U.S. Navy submarines to hospital neonatal intensive-care units. LRC researchers conduct independent, third-party testing of lighting products in the LRC's state of the art photometric laboratories, the only university lighting laboratories accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP Lab Code: 200480-0). In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today, offers a M.S. in lighting and a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. With 35 full-time faculty and staff, 15 graduate students, and a 30,000 sq. ft. laboratory space, the LRC is the largest university-based lighting research and education organization in the world.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.”