For Jake Levy, the hunt for a new SUV boiled down to two choices: the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L vs 2022 Kia Telluride. Levy had done endless research online, scouring reviews and forums, but still didn’t have the answer to his most vital question: which one has the most obnoxious headlights?
In a world where state and local governments continue to crack down on window tinting, screeching exhaust modifications, and conspicuously brazen carbon emissions, LED headlights remain as one of the easiest ways to tell other drivers that you’re an obnoxious asshole. First introduced in the luxury segment in 2009, the cornea-burning LEDs have now made their way into the mainstream and are now a regular––and distracting––sight on America’s roads.
“I don’t even like them, but it’s just a matter of self-defense at this point,” says Levy. “I’m tired of getting blinded every time another car rounds a corner and figure the only way to demonstrate how annoying they are is to flash them right back.”
This highway Hammurabi isn’t alone, with drivers across the country lodging similar complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA director Jan Sterling says the LEDs aren’t only brighter than normal halogen bulbs but also emit a particularly discomforting wavelength of light. Whereas most bulbs have a white or yellowish glow, the LEDs appear almost blue
“It’s almost as if they were designed to rob drivers of their night vision,” says Sterling. “There are rumors that these bulbs were initially designed to be used in enhanced interrogation sessions and that the Department of Defense sold the patent to the private sector to raise funds for a new vending machine in the Pentagon breakroom.”
The LED lights hold a number of advantages over typical halogen bulbs, with one New York Times article noting, “LEDs became popular because they were longer-lasting, energy-efficient, and perceived by automakers as sexy and modern,” but not all critics agree.
“First off: I’m by no means the arbiter of what is and is not defined as ‘sexy,’ but I do hope someone will check in on some of these lonely vehicle designers,” says Rand Davis, Industrial Design professor at Tamarack University. Having spent decades in the industry before entering academia, Davis says the LED lights do fulfill their goal, but at a higher cost than many realize.
“The lights themselves represent something of a microcosm of modern society, where one group is willing––glad even––to hurt or inconvenience others if it makes their own lives even marginally better. You want to see better at night when you’re driving, that’s understandable, but if it comes at the cost of literally blinding other drivers on the road, you’re not creating a safer driving experience; you’re just a dick.”
While the Grand Cherokee was a little outside of Levy’s budget, he’s already started thinking of ways to recoup the difference, thanks to Jeeps LED headlights. With so many spare lumens at his disposal, Levy has toyed with the idea of lending out the SUV to help illuminate nighttime sporting events, deep-sea exploration, or as a stand-in for malfunctioning lighthouses. “I talked to the Coast Guard, and they seemed interested, but they weren’t willing to pitch in to help with a foghorn modification, so screw them,” Levy says.
The new headlights are already earning their keep as a means of defraying expensive medical bills, says Levy. When his 11-year-old son fell off his bike recently, Levy saw a pricey trip to the emergency room in the family’s future. “Then I remembered the LEDs. I just had Anthony put his hand up against the plastic, switched them to high-beam, and we could immediately see every bone, vein, and tendon in his hand,” he says. “I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to use it as a learning experience for the kids, but it was tough to talk over all the crying.”