Shedding Light on the LED/HID issue
So, thanks to the Telegram and other news outlets posting misinformation I have been asked about this whole “LED lights are illegal” fiasco close to 50 times today. For anyone who doesn’t know, I own and operate NL Lights Bars & Offroad Accessories as well was Pro Coat Industries. As someone who started out specializing in vehicle lighting I’m going to share some facts on aftermarket lighting. The media has taken the stance that “All aftermarket lighting is bad and blinds people”. This is like saying all dogs are vicious and should be put down. As with everything, yes, there are always a few bad apples, in this case being ether careless motorists, poorly fitted or improper equipment, or a lack of project knowledge.
One thing I want to point out is that people are giving law enforcement and emergency response workings a hard time for using LED lights (and window tint). Saying they are allowed to use them but we aren’t allowed is not a valid argument. Police also have flashing lights, sirens and oh yea, guns. Just because police are allowed to carry and use something (hopefully appropriately) does not mean we are entitled to as well.
Here are a few common issues with headlights that I hope I can help inform the reader about.
HIDs vs LEDs.
To help simplify it, HIDs are a similar look to a standard bulb but operate differently and are a often longer bulb. They are 4-6x brighter on average. Even when fitted in a vehicles low beam housing (which has a reflector to control light) the bulb can extend back PAST the reflector which will mean you are essentially using high beams all the time. In a dual beam housing (1 bulb that acts as a high and low) you will have the same issue. Yes, the front filament on the bulb will light up and be inside the reflector, but due to the bulbs length it is still like having high beams on. This is one of many reasons we do touch HID headlights. We will not sell or install them. HIDs should NEVER be used in a non-projector housing with the exception of for high beams (which of course you turn off in traffic) HIDs also project light forward. Halogen bulbs often have a frosted tip which limits this to control the light.
Now. LEDs. Led headlights come in many different sizes. The way higher end LED Headlights work is they have either 1, or several smaller LED chips on 2 opposite sides of the bulb. When inserted into a low beam housing they are full inclosed in the reflector. This means the light will only project where it is designed to. In a dual beam model, a good LED kit will have a low beam reflector built in. This means there is a hood to angle the low beams on the ground out of drivers eyes (works even better than the factory bulbs). Attached is a picture showing HIDs compared to a good LED set in our jeeps.
LEDs do not project light straight forward and rely on the housing like a halogen bulb with a frosted tip.
HIDs. As you can see light scatters in all directions. The bulb is also longer, extending it back past the reflector.
Our LEDs As you can see the reflector pushes light down instead of allowing it to go in all directions. Only the LED chips produce light which is even shorter than the stock bulbs.
Every now and they we get a customer who will say his HIDs were much brighter than our LEDs. This is because even though they have the same light output, their HID kits are essentially acting as high beams at all times. These are the lights that cause issues with people. They can also have a blue tint to them which is harder on the eyes of oncoming traffic. This is due to the way the eyes perceives light. Blue is a shorter wave length which causes your eyes to pick up on it better. This means if you have blue light coming towards you it will be harder to see anything else.
Another common issue is fog lights. People often but HIDs, LED bulbs or LED cubes in their fog lights. With the only exception being a few SAE/DOT approved lights, none should be used in traffic. Fog light housings do not have reflectors. This beams the ONLY major difference in a fog light housing and a high beam housing is the height of them. This means in a larger truck your fog lights are now the height of a cars high beams. We sell fog light models with a lower power (brighter than factory, but lower than our brighter models) which are better in fog light housings, but can still be an issue in larger/higher vehicles.
Now, before I get to the next topic we want to be very clear on our stance. LED light bars are designed for offroad use. When being used on the road they are for when there are NO traffic on the road. This means in front of you or coming towards you. The risk of blinding an oncoming driving is much higher than the chances of not seeing a moose for the few seconds you will have to turn the light off to pass the driver.
Light bars. One big issue here is the beam pattern. Most people buying lights end up getting something with a 2D optic. This is the most basic system on the market. These optics do not focus the light and throw light in all directions. This means for the driver the light does not appear to be shining far down the road and they think it does not need to be turned off. However, for oncoming traffic it appears as a giant ball of light due to the poorly designed optics.
A higher end light bar (or even a cheap one with better optics) will focus the light much better and give a much farther light projection. This will give the user a better idea of shine as well as keep light focused and on the ground/straight ahead instead of throwing it everywhere. In theory, these lights will not affect oncoming drivers as much, but should still be turned off when any vehicles are around of course. But on the off chance a person forgets to turn it off right away, the light pattern is much less blinding due to the focused beam pattern. You do not need to pay a fortune for lights with these designs, however for the stamped DOT approved models they can be very expensive.
Attached are pictures showing the beam pattern of a cheaper light vs a high end light.