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?)