© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Glaring Headlights Caused Bad Car Accidents


As long as there have been automobiles, there have been crashes. Car crashes might be called “accidents,” but almost all crashes are really caused by human error – collisions with skunks, deer, trees, mailboxes, telephone poles, rocks, and most commonly, other cars.

Back in the day, roads were often just gravel – dusty, rutted, and narrow, allowing little space for error. And after cars got headlights, driving at night introduced another hazard, the glare from other cars’ headlights.

On this date, in 1928, the Bismarck Tribune published an article that illuminated the problem of early headlights. Of the 79 traffic deaths in 1927, ten happened because of “faulty” or “illegal lights.” Pierce County suffered most, with four deaths due to “poor or glaring headlights.”

The greatest danger came from “lights which cast a glare into the eyes of drivers of approaching vehicles,” but danger also came from headlights “so dim” that a driver could not see the road ahead.

North Dakota headlight laws were clear – every automobile had to have “two lights in front and a red light in the rear.” Headlights could be no more than 4 candlepower intensity, yet bright enough to distinguish a person 200 feet away. Lights could not “be of a glaring or dazzling nature;” and required functional dimmers. Additionally, a “proper” headlight-beam could not be “more than 42 inches above the ground 75 feet in front of the vehicle.”

Another menace involved cars with one burned-out headlight, because approaching drivers could not know which headlamp was lighted, creating the risk of a head-on crash, or a plunge into the ditch.

To fix the glaring-headlights problem, the state highway commission launched a concerted drive against the “blinding lights.” Drivers were urged to use their dimmers, and focus on courtesy and safety. All law-enforcement officers were to crack down on dangerous headlights.

Peering into history’s rearview mirror sheds light on “glaring headlights,” squinting reflections on the extra-bright halogen, light-emitting-diode, and high-intensity-discharge headlights on today’s modern roadways.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Faulty Lights Fatal To Four; State Highway Body Launches Campaign Against Illegal Lights,” Bismarck Tribune, August 16, 1928, p. 4.

“Editorial Comment; About Headlights (Minot Daily News),” August 22, 1928, p. 6.

“Headlights Must Not Blind,” Bismarck Tribune, March 17, 1917, p. 8.

“Glaring Headlights,” Ward County Independent, April 26, 1917, p. 8.

“July 1 Date To Cut Down On Headlights,” Grand Forks Herald, June 26, 1917, p. 3.

“Glaring Headlights Force Automobiles Off The Road,” Bismarck Tribune, July 7, 1923, p. 2.

“Glaring Headlights,” Grand Forks Herald, October 10, 1916, p. 4.

“Rules for Safe Driving,” Bismarck Tribune, January 10, 1922, p. 7.