Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why do we drive with high-beam on?

I just started driving a four-wheeler on the Indian roads for the first time. Of course, I am training my brain to make sure I enter a road on the left side and not the right side, to anticipate random people coming from any direction any time, so on. However, driving at night is such a tough task - many cars, trucks, vans and even two-wheelers drive using high-beam ON. Driving at night puts so much pressure on the driver to the point of being completely unbearable and downright risky.

You are completely blinded when facing such high-beam headlights. You can’t see the curb, you don’t know if there is a pot-hole or not, you don’t know if there is a pedestrian or not. For few seconds you are completely blind – you don’t know where you are going, and you lose your bearing.

I am quite sure that I am not the only one who is blinded by such high-beam headlights. I am quite sure most humans do get blinded by such high-beam lights. In fact, most animals do. They just stare at the oncoming vehicle and get run over.

So, how come we still use high-beam headlights while driving in a city, or on a road with oncoming traffic? Isn’t it obvious for each driver the inconvenience and discomfort it causes? Why do they continue to practice something that causes so much discomfort while enduring that discomfort? Is it something like, ‘Yes, I know I am doing something stupid here, but I would like to continue doing it because others are doing it!’

Instead of escalating the problem, why don’t we tone it down? Like, driving on low-beam in the city, and moving to low-beam in face of oncoming traffic? One would expect that it is the most sensible thing to do. It is just common sense. I have driven for many years in US (and Europe). It goes unsaid that you lower your beam in face of oncoming traffic, and if for some reason you forget to do that, the approaching person blinks his headlights or honks and that is good enough reason for you to feel embarrassed. You almost feel like you have committed a grave crime.

What is it about us that don’t allow us to practice something that makes sense right away? Is government involved here? Is the system wrong here? Are the politicians corrupt here? Is it caste-politics or communalism here? What is it in play here?

Or is it just about our attitude- the utter lack of social responsibility?

This lack of social responsibility is seen in other phases too. I was watching two young girls walking on the road next to my office. Very nonchalantly, they just threw trash, plastic and paper on the middle of the road while conversing away to glory. That particular scene was imprinted in my brain. They were educated girls, could be college-going or could be software professionals, they were nicely dressed, were talking in English. But just look at the apathy. I am not illustrating this to accuse those two girls. This shows how we raise our kids, how we teach our kids, how we as adults do not set examples where necessary, or may be, we do set examples- but they turn out to be bad examples, like driving with full-beam lights knowing very well how inconvenient that is to everyone!

Imagine the conversation, where the son says, “But Dad, this big light completely blinds us. Then, how come we are driving with big lights?” and the Dad replies, “This is the only way to get ahead in this country, son! Push or be pushed!”


  1. A few years ago it was compulsory for all vehicles to have a opaque circle painted in the middle of the glass in front, ostensibly to reduce the intensity of the glare caused by hi-beam. For whatever reason, the rule was dropped. I think it might be a good idea to bring it back.

  2. My experience has been that if I raise my beam for a few seconds, more than half of the high beamers realize their mistake and lower theirs, then I also lower mine.

    For some who don't, I keep my beam high for them, but return to low again after they have passed.

    I am against a forceful solution like painting the lights, but if it has to be that way, probably an automation which automatically lowers the beam after 2 mins would do the job.

  3. We lack civic sense and common road courtesy. I have never understood the idea of people driving with high beams on in the middle of a well lit city. And these are the apparently 'educated' city folks!!

    Because of these morons, I have stopped driving on the highways after sunset.

    Your observations about two girls littering the road shows our approach to shared public resources. They are there to be abused. When you question such behaviour, you get "everyone does it" reply.

  4. The high beam problem is a typical b'lore problem, it is not the case in other cities like Delhi or Mumbai. Apparently in Delhi, the cops will actually catch if you put high beam in the city limit. The issue stems from the larger problem with a city like b;lore where so many immigrants have come in the last 10 years, a few of them take up driving just becase they are able to get a license so easily here. A lot have no clue about road rules. Some educated people also seem to behave the same way.

    The way people don't follow lane rules, bump you off the road, complete lack of signals at major intersections. Unplanned roads and road construction during peak hours. The problems are many and half of them stem from an incompetent adminstration.

  5. A temp-driver I once hired was using the high-beam, and when I asked why replied that a high beam dissuades people randomly crossing the street getting into the vehicle's way. Much like the 'deer in the spotlight' saying, and people back off. I did not know what sense to make out of that explanation.

    I agree with Anjali's suggestion on this topic.

    The worst sign of road indiscipiline I often see is people jumping the red light and the cop starting at them helplessly.

  6. In US, you will ticket if you drive with high-beam on. It is supposed to be used only for few seconds in pitch dark when you cannot see the turns properly.

    Pasting with opaque circles won't work anymore with halogen lamps.

    I think an alternate tech solution to the problem is to make it mandatory for all the vehicles to be equipped with a sensor which will turn off the dim after few seconds, preventing the permenent ON of high beam. This may be easier than educating all the drivers.

  7. well this phenomenon i have observed even while driving on the highways. i think the most disciplined road force that we have are the truck drivers; rest everyone just wishes to turn a blind eye [pun intended] on the situation of the guy who is facing the high-beam. i think the major problem is that most of the people driving on any of the indian roads are those who received their driving lessons and licenses through others who are never bothered about teaching road etiquettes and this habit is a major PIA in bangalore. people here don't even have the decency to follow the lane driving leave alone have any driving etiquettes.
    i blame the people themselves instead of the law enforcement agencies, as we are the ones who put up with all this without even raising a single comment on the same. as we are the ones who know that we are doing something wrong and then also keep doing it as that is the easiest [and laziest] way of doing the same. rules and laws cannot help in easing the problem, as we will always want to go against them, as following them hurts our egoist nature.
    we need to create an awareness within ourselves and not try and do things because the other person is doing the same. i think bangalore is more in this web, mainly due to the competitive nature which has become a trademark of the cut-throat IT industry which has made what bangalore is today, and we the people into what we have become.

  8. I was perplexed by the same question.

    I believe what gagneet says, that many drivers are trained by others drivers who don't fully understand the "road rules" themselves and fail to impart the necessary knowledge/information to the trainee. It is also possible that trainee-drivers are mis-trained/mis-informed like the temporary driver that Ram refers to.

    Also, isn't there some standard on how high the beams can light, say, at 100m. In some countries, this is verified every year at the time of annual vehicle inspection. Is it possible that some of the vehicles in question don't have this adjusted right? Since the headlights for a Maruti 800 aren't at the same height as a Scorpio or a Tata bus, isn't it possible for an improperly adjusted low beam on a Scorpio to look like a "high beam" to someone in a car with lower driver eye level? I'm using the info that the difference in wattage between a high beam and low beams isn't much: ~ 10% for the cars I am familiar with.

    And the opaque circle that Shankar mentions is probably not needed anymore given that most cars come with halogen lamps these days and halogen bulbs typically have a black head providing the same advantages as the opaque circle. I am not sure if the other anonymous meant the same when saying "It won't work anymore"

    Where did the automatic lowering thing come from? When driving in unlit countryside roads, you do want to drive with high beams after dark (for better visibility/range) and lower the beam when you notice someone coming from the opposite direction or coming up behind someone driving ahead of you in the same direction. Am I misinformed/trained?

    I my opinion, driver training is really the only thing that will work, unfortunately that isn't a near-term solution.

  9. BMW already comes with an automatic high beam controller. It may be a good idea to adopt this idea to indian market.

  10. "Opinions are like assholes- everyone has one"! These are my opinions. They don't matter much because they do not bring any change. People live as ever - spitting, throwing garbage, cheating, bribing, but leading a moral life - not smoking, not eating meat, not visiting a prostitute.

    Why is it immoral to Smoke or eat meat ? I find that as funny and crazy as You find religion to be. I am appaled by this statement of Yours,All your blogs loose values given such an opinion of Yours. Man is also an animal, he eats other animals just to grow live further propagate his kind and create a balance in nature and food chain. Don't You think your justification for every thing works for this too ? Surprised . - essar

  11. Essar:
    Why is it immoral to Smoke or eat meat ?

    I DON'T think it is immoral to smoke or eat meat. I was being sarcastic. That's the whole point. A lady asked the same question sometime ago and I answered it. I am not sure where that comment is.

  12. On dimly lit roads where one is pushing the speed to the max possible, the high beam helps catch jaywalkers/ potholes/ other typical obstacles found on Indian roads earlier, allowing for more reaction time.

    The other factors are going to be around for quire some time, the solution is to drive slower with low beams but nobody is ready to do it.

    I have found it riskier to drive slower than the flow on a road- you are constantly being overtaken, mostly unsafely, and from both sides. You have to put up with a lot of honking also as some of these racers let know their irritation at your slowing them down.


  13. Dude I completely agree with you on this! Infact I was creating a similar blog on this issue. We have so many literate people in this country but they usually put a blindeye to this issue.
    I am usually an agressive guy and often stop my car and remind the other person (in my own way) not to use these lights.....
    Assholes never learn i guess!

  14. I have seem trucks with upper half ( or 1/3rd) glass painted black of their head light. Looks it was compulsory in some northern state. I believe it will cut the light which reaches directly to opposite driver.

    Is it some thing to do with high beam problem?

  15. This is totally my theory:
    I think it all started with the truck drivers. During the early days night travel was done mostly by the truckers(there weren't many cars along the highways. Cars are a recent addition to the highways. Being seated at a higher level they don't face the problem of high beam much, it is the cars where the driver is at a low level faces the problem of high beam. Well everyone knows that high beam illuminates more of the road than a low beam. So the truck drivers don't mind using them and as of the cars using them i think its a revenge they take on other drivers(most of whom are high beam drivers) ultimately it is a situation where all are equal you flashed me i flashed you tit for tat.
    As for the social responsibility of the two girls i think it is the responsibility of the municipality to provide a dustbin.
    Visit Chandigarh and you will find even a thela waala carrying a dustbin it is the same indians. Remove all the dustbins from US and see US will be a far more dirtier place. I am not defending their(two girls) actions.

  16. And we say the Politicians are Corrupt/ Irresponsible.....

    We the people are corrupt.....If taking bribes is an Offence than bribing is equally corrupt.....

    1) Stop haggling with road side Vendors. ( They are poor, they are not going to buy the tajmahal with your extra 5 Rs, on the contrary the extra 5 rupees you pay might help them feed their families or pay for their childs education.

    2) Stop bribing, traffic or whatever. The more you bribe the more of an offence it becomes.

    3) Painting half the headlight black doesnt help.....we need to realise, we need to educate ourselves.....WE CANT SURVIVE WITHOUT EACH OTHER!!!

  17. And we say the Politicians are Corrupt/ Irresponsible.....

    We the people are corrupt.....If taking bribes is an Offence than bribing is equally corrupt.....

    You dont understand that the act of law itself leads to corruptness. . .

    The less laws there are the more better govt will be. . .

  18. I do not think even the Commissioner of Police (Traffic) is bothered about it. Perhaps he does not find time. The Traffic Police is ineffective. I tried writing about High beam lights menace in some neighbourhood newspapers to no avail. Our roads are very narrow and imagine the vehicles with high beam lights coming in front or even behind you. Worse is when one of the Headlamps not working.Throughout the world, the uneducated follow the educated and here, the other way. Having driven abroad for 25 years (it was fun and enjoyable), I gave up driving here after trying for a year and sold my car. I was more worried that I would hit some innocent human being. In a junction, it is a risk to stop at the turn of red light because the driver behind is sure to hit you.If you want to drive properly following rules, it is better to give up driving.

  19. I really wish, people develop some sense of empathy regarding high-beam driving within city limits. How can one do something which he himself doesn't like?

    A strange yet terrible fact.

    I have committed myself not to drive on high beam in front of oncoming traffic or people. Even if the entire world glares at me from the opposite end, still i will keep my cool intact and continue driving in dipper. Hope one day they realize how comfortable they were when they crossed me. Satyagrah might work here instead of kranti-kari approach.

    Let's hope for the best, and let's hope it comes soon.

  20. Almost seven years later and the problem has gotten worse. I just drove home and I was one of half a dozen people on the road without his highbeams on. I invented the Freedom Plate. A mirror you install in the back of your car at an angle designed to reflect high beams to eye level, so at least the offenders behind you will be blinding themselves instead of you...

    But, I can't find a mechanic willing to install a Freedom Plate. Mechanics hate freedom.

    Also, your CAPTCHA has told me no less than three times I entered the wrong code. Get rid of your CAPTCHA. CAPTCHA is designed to keep humans out. NO BOT HAS EVER BEEN STOPPED BY A CAPTCHA! CAPTCHAS ALWAYS, AND WITHOUT EXCEPTION LET BOTS THROUGH AND ARE DESIGNED TO KEEP HUMANS OUT!! WHY DO YOU LOVE BOTS AND HATE HUMANS!?


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