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By Bruce W. Smith
One factor that weighs heavily on truck drivers is stopping distances — and stopping distance is a direct correlation with driver reaction time.
Reaction time is directly related to your vision; the quicker you see a problem, the faster you react and the shorter the stopping distance.
Seeing and reacting isn’t a big issue in the daytime. But at night it’s another story. And the older you are, the more critical night vision becomes.
With safety and night vision in mind, we tried out the new DOT-legal LED headlights from Truck-Lite (http://www.trucklite.com/), comparing them against a pair of conventional (non-halogen) headlights in a 2006 Peterbilt 379 towing an empty 35-foot Travis Dump trailer.
Our test was simple: Park the combo on a deserted two-lane stretch of dark, tree-lined county road near our offices here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Then we turned the stock headlights on low-beam, took a photo from the driver’s seat, then swapped in the Truck-Lite LEDs to see the difference. Afterwards we hit the road for a little seat time.
“I’d never believed it, but those [LED] headlights are like going from night to day,” company owner-operator Todd Shirley, Shirley Trucking in Tuscaloosa, said when he stepped down from the cab after driving the Truck-Lite-equipped combo a couple miles on the road. “You sure don’t have to strain to see what’s ahead.”
Our photos show what he means. With the conventional sealed-beams on low-beam, Shirley can’t be seen standing in the right-hand lane 125 feet ahead of the truck.
However, with the Truck-Lite LED headlights in place not only is he clearly visible, but the road behind him is illuminated out another 100 feet revealing the back of a road sign on the opposite side of the road.
The light is also like daylight in both color and clarity, thanks to the lens fluting focusing the output of 10 high-intensity LEDs contained in each headlight.
High-beam is just as dramatic as the Truck-Lite LED headlights penetrate all the way to the curve and out to the sides, while the stock headlights barely illuminated the straight stretch, let alone show an approaching curve.
Our short take: The Truck-Lite LED headlights provide a big boost to a driver’s night vision, thus increasing reaction time and adding a greater safety margin in stopping distances.
LEDs require only a fraction of the juice need to power other types of headlights, yet they produce a far whiter, brighter light source.
Another plus: hard-coated polycarbonate lenses provide 30 times more impact strength than glass, and Truck-Lite claims they last 50 times longer than conventional headlights because vibration doesn’t wreak havoc on bulb life.
The downside: LED headlights are still expensive with street price ranging between $600-$700 per pair.
Still, that’s not a high price when one considers the safety value.
(Click on the images to see larger.)