‘Blue’ headlights — legal or not?

This blog post has been updated since its first publication to clarify when it is legal and illegal to have HID headlights.

Barb VanWinkle of Everett writes: “When driving at night, more and more I see bright blue headlights on vehicles headed toward me. Those lights hurt my eyes. It makes driving much more difficult. Are they legal? Are they a wave of the future? Is there a way to get them banned? I’m not the only one who feels this way and other older people I talk to seem to agree with me.”

I called around a bit, and Travis Spitzer, a retail sales representative at AutoZone in Everett, proved the most helpful in describing the world of headlights these days.

“She’s referring to the high-intensity discharge headlights — or HIDs,” Spitzer said.

“Instead of being a filament bulb, they have xenon gas,” he said. “The blue gives you a bit more range and reflectivity versus a standard white bulb; it is more with our eyes than anything technical. But for the most part (people choose them) for aesthetics.”

This type of light can give off a blueish tint although, if legal, would still be considered “white” under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. A truly blue headlight would be illegal.

Beyond color, the question of whether HID lights are legal can get tricky. The bottom line: If your car wasn’t made with them, you can’t switch to them.

While many cars are now manufactured with HID headlights, conversion kits to install HID lights are not street legal — no matter what the package you bought online leads you to believe.

Why? Here’s some information from the Washington State Patrol FAQ page:

Are high intensity discharge (HID) conversion kits legal?

No, in order for a headlight to be legal for use in Washington State, it must conform to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 108 requirements for headlights. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has concluded that it is impossible to produce HID conversion kits (converting a halogen system to HID) that would be compliant with FMVSS 108.

Halogen equipment uses an electrical current to heat a metal wire coil filament to incandescence, while the HID conversion kit’s light source incorporates a discharge arc to produce light. HIDs require a ballast for operation. Under FMVSS 108 Section S7.7 (replacement light sources), each replaceable light source for headlamps must be designed to conform to the dimensions and electrical specifications for the headlamp source it is intended to replace. For example, if an HID kit is marketed as replacing an H1 light source, then it must match the H1’s wire coil filament size and location, the electrical connector size and location, and the ballast design for use with an H1 light source (which is impossible since there is no ballast).

NHTSA believes this equipment presents a safety risk to the public since the kits can be expected to produce excessive glare to oncoming motorists. In one investigation, NHTSA found that an HID conversion headlamp exceeded the maximum candlepower by over 800 percent.

And if you think this is the latest technology, you’d be very far off. HID is so 2008. The real future? Lasers. Can’t wait for the kinds of questions I’ll get on that one. (Anyone else thinking of sharks right now?)

Have a question? Email us at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your name and city of residence. Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog.

Talk to us

More in Local News

After escaping on Wednesday, an emu named Sarah has been safely returned to AJ's Acre, a farm located near the Alexander Road and the Mukilteo Speedway. (AJ's Acre)
An escaped emu is returned to its farm in Mukilteo

Missing since Wednesday, the female bird was noticed by a neighbor and safely recovered Saturday.

Frances McDormand in "Nomadland." (Searchlight Pictures) 20210304
Masked in a nearly empty theater, a movie outing at last

Just four of us were in the audience for a matinee showing of “Nomadland” at Stanwood Cinemas.

A Marysville Pilchuck football player sports a spear on his helmet as the Tomahawks took on Snohomish in the Wesco 3A Championship Friday evening at Quil Ceda Stadium on November 1, 2019. School district leaders may soon need to consider dropping Marysville Pilchuck High School’s mascot, the Tomahawks. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Should Marysville Pilchuck High drop the name ‘Tomahawks’?

A state bill would ban Native American mascots and symbols from schools — unless there is tribal permission.

Broadway closed after ‘small explosive device’ is found

The Everett Police Department bomb squad responded and “rendered it inert.”

Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Sunset Falls cascades down past the existing fish ladder along the Skykomish River east of Index, February 4, 2014.
Photo taken 20140214
New hatchery on Skykomish to end practice of importing fish

A plan to capture fish from Sunset Falls near Index and release them in the river is open for public comment.

James Myles walks his 5-month-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi Ellie around Martha Lake Park on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 in Lynnwood, Washington. Myles entered Ellie into a contest called Americas Favorite Pet, where she's currently in 2nd place for her group. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Vote for Ellie: Fluffy corgi from Lynnwood vying for top dog

“Her Fluffiness” is competing to be America’s Favorite Pet. The contest raised $300,000 for PAWS last year.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee speaks with special ed Pre-K teacher Michelle Ling in her classroom at Phantom Lake Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash. Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)
Governor: Educators are now eligible for coronavirus vaccine

“This should give educators more confidence,” Jay Inslee said. Other frontline workers could soon be next.

Riaz Khan speaks at the groundbreaking at the site of the Islamic Center of Mukilteo that he helped spearhead over the last seven years on Saturday, March 6, 2021 in Mukilteo, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Ground is broken for Mukilteo’s own mosque

The Islamic Center of Mukilteo has been seven years in planning.

Most Read