Leading surgeon warns of 'deadly danger' of aftermarket LED headlights

By Matt Allan
Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 12:01 pm

A leading eye surgeon has called for a change to the law around aftermarket LED and Xenon car headlights, claiming that the units pose a serious road safety risk.

Dr Ali Mearza says that the poor fitment of the ultra-bright lights can easily “blind” drivers, especially those with existing eye conditions, increasing the risk of an accident.

He believes that the law around vehicles is outdated and needs to be urgently revised to take into account the third-party LED and Xenon conversion kits widely sold online.

Dr Mearza, founding partner of the Ophthalmic Consultants of London clinic, said: “From an engineering point of view, both LED and Xenon headlights have a clear advantage over conventional halogen bulbs – they’re much, much brighter.

"Factory-fitted LED and Xenon lights will of course be perfectly tailored to the weight and height of the car they’re being used in, not to mention road-tested to ensure they illuminate the road brightly but safely.

"However kits are also being sold online which allow the owners of older cars to swap their existing halogen lights for LED or Xenon lights. If poorly installed, the light beam produced will be angled too high, and will shine into the eyes of the drivers of oncoming traffic. Badly adjusted conventional headlights are bad enough, but the additional power of these new lights is the difference between dazzling and blinding.

“Even if it’s only for a few seconds, the consequences of driving while unable to see could be disastrous.”

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Dr Mearza added that while the problem of being dazzled by poorly adjusted headlights is bad enough for drivers with perfect vision, it is even worse for people who wear glasses or contact lenses, especially if their prescription is out of date.

Factory-fitted LED lights should be correctly set up but there are no such guarantees with aftermarket units (Photo: Shutterstock)

“The laws around these powerful new headlights are woefully out of date,” he continued. “The principal piece of legislation – the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations – dates from 1989 and thus makes no mention of either LED or Xenon headlights as they weren’t around then.

Headlight aim is one of the criteria that MOT testers inspect vehicles for, but these tests are only conducted once a year on cars aged over three years, so they may not be catching all badly installed lights.

The internet is full of online retailers giving conflicting advice about which lights are legal and which are not. If there’s any consensus, it is that retrofitting LED headlights is usually illegal, while installing Xenon lights can be legal but only under strict conditions.

Either way, with such confusion the solution should be blindingly obvious. The law needs updating and clarifying urgently.”