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Xenon Headlights and Driver Safety

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 4 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Xenon Headlights And Driver Safety

There are three main types of car headlight: halogen, LED and xenon. Halogen lights have been around for many years. Most standard cars use them. LED lights are recent. They appeared in some Lexus models in 2008. Audi, Cadillac and Toyota have now begun to fit them as well.

BMW was the first manufacturer to use xenon headlights. This was in 1991. The lights have increased in popularity since then and are now a feature of many luxury cars.

It’s easy to spot a car with xenon headlights. The light has a blue tint and is extremely bright. It’s this brightness that has sparked debate about safety.


Xenon bulbs work in a different way to halogen. They produce up to three times more light than a halogen bulb and do not fade with distance.

In practice, this means that a driver with xenon headlights can see what lies ahead with greater clarity than with halogen bulbs. There is little doubt that from the driver’s point of view, such lighting improves safety. The problem lies with oncoming traffic.

The brightness of xenon headlights may dazzle motorists driving towards them. Opponents of xenon headlights argue that such glare may temporarily blind oncoming drivers and lead to accidents.


The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has recognised this problem. As part of its work on vehicle safety, UNECE has introduced a law that applies to xenon headlights.

ECE regulation 48 affects all European cars. Those cars that use xenon bulbs must have a cleaning system for their headlights. This system could be a water jet and a mini wiper. Cars with xenon bulbs must also have an automatic levelling control system for the beams of light. The purpose of both the beam levellers and the cleaning system is to reduce glare. Nonetheless, complaints about xenon headlights have continued. These have received support from scientific studies. The studies suggest that xenon headlights can produce up to 40% more glare than halogen equivalents.


Despite the issue about glare, many motorists appreciate the improved vision xenon headlights bring them. It’s even possible to buy conversion kits that enable drivers to replace halogen bulbs with xenon.


What’s more, xenon headlights are more efficient than halogen. They give out more light using less power. A halogen bulb, for example, may need 70 watts of power. A much brighter xenon bulb may need only 40 watts. As a result, xenon headlights are less of a power drain on a car battery than halogen. Less power drain means that a car doesn’t have to work so hard to recharge the battery. This improves fuel consumption and reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

Service Life

Another benefit of xenon bulbs is that they last longer than halogen. The service life of a xenon bulb is about 2,000 hours. This compares to 1,000 hours for a good quality halogen. Xenon bulbs are more expensive, though.


The concern about glare from xenon headlights is serious. Nonetheless, any driver who has used xenon headlights on an unlit road on a dark night can appreciate their advantage over halogen.

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