Why did you flash your brights at me tonight?
May 11, 2005 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Either I'm way too sensitive to the phenomenon of having an oncoming car's brights flashed at me, or it actually is happening too often to me. So, my question is: who out there is flashing their brights at other cars and why?

I have come up with a few ideas, but none of them seem to completely fill the bill...

0. The oncoming car is mis-timing when he will pass me to safely turn on the brights. Not so, as usually this is in town, on outskirts of town, or otherwise the car is following some other car in his lane.

1. There is a speed trap that I am approaching and you are trying to warn me of this. Thank you, when that is the case, I guess, but this reason accounts for a minority of the cases in my experience.

2. I have a headlight out. I recently replaced a headlight that I'm not sure of how long it had been out. I don't think it was out for more than a week or two at most, so again, this can't be the best reason either.

3. You think that I am driving with my brights on or that my headlamps are too bright. I have checked every time, and am not driving with my brights on when this happens to me. Also, I do not use the annoying blue lights or the "custom" lamps that some people favor. I drive a Honda civic and I use the reccommended lamps. The focus has not been adjusted since the car was delivered from the factory, nor can the focus change when the lamps are replaced. The car sits relatively low to the ground, unlike trucks and SUVS that are high up and can shine lights into lower cars.

So, I don't know why it is happening to me, but at least once a week when I'm driving at night.

What don't I know about this practice?
posted by achmorrison to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total)
Your headlights may be aimed too high. Thus, your low beams are shining directly into oncoming drivers' eyes.
posted by mischief at 8:05 PM on May 11, 2005

The oncoming car could be coincidentally passing over a bump or dip in the road, which would recreate the phenomenon of flashing...
posted by naxosaxur at 8:07 PM on May 11, 2005

I would blame it on bumps in the road too. I've noticed what looks like people flashing their lights at me but I really don't think it was/is.

FYI, I don't think I'm abnormal in doing this: when I flash my headlights at someone I do it twice - high, low, high, back to low. That doesn't look like I went over a bump. If an oncoming car just goes high, low, then I assume it's just a bump.
posted by pwb503 at 8:12 PM on May 11, 2005

Response by poster: I've mistook the bump/dip for a highbeam flash before, but many times I actually see the other bulbs lighting up when I'm being flashed, so that doesn't completely account for it.
posted by achmorrison at 8:16 PM on May 11, 2005

Does your car have fog lights or anything like that in the bumper? (Not familiar with all the Honda Civic light configurations out there...)

My Dodge Ram does, and I used to have this happen a LOT to me. The fog lights (which just glow, they don't "beam" per se) are only on when I have my low beams on. Apparently a lot of oncoming morons would see four lights pointing at them and think, "Ouch! My eyes!" and flash their brights at me. At which point, I'd flash my brights at them, causing my fog lights to switch off and probably giving them a starter tan at the same time.

Long story short, sometimes people flash at lights they THINK are bright because of how they're configured, rather than because the oncoming lights are actually too bright.
posted by BoringPostcards at 8:25 PM on May 11, 2005

Have your headlights aligned and stop binding oncoming traffic with them.
posted by caddis at 8:30 PM on May 11, 2005

I've flashed my highbeams at drivers who don't have their headlights on at night, but it sounds as if this might not be applicable to your situation. I've heard of people doing the reverse - flashing their lights at drivers who have left their headlights on during the day - though now that many cars have daytime running lamps this practice ought to be obsolete. I've also heard of people using highbeam flash to signify "thanks" for some kind traffic maneuver or to signal that they're letting you merge/pass/whatever.
posted by Aster at 8:31 PM on May 11, 2005

Truckers will flash lights (though I don't think it's their brights that they flash) as a curtesy -in order to let someone know that it's safe to pass in front of them, or safe to move into their lane. Maybe you're meeting a lot of truckers, or former truck drivers, or trucker wannabe's, or perhaps the idea is spreading.
posted by LadyBonita at 8:38 PM on May 11, 2005

Bad night vision: normal lights seem awfully bright to you, so you flash, and then discover that the real brights are much, much brighter.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:38 PM on May 11, 2005

In rural Kansas, people often flash their brights to warn of deer in the vicinity. They usually hang out by the side of the road -- trying to decide whether they want to jet across the highway or not.
posted by tommunation at 9:48 PM on May 11, 2005

Im thinking it could be small bumps in the road and the other cars have those newer blueish headlights. I find those annoying because they seem to have more spread than regular headlights.
posted by Iax at 11:55 PM on May 11, 2005

Honestly, I can't think of any other reason why someone would flash their lights at you. I used to live in a fairly rural part of New Jersey (yes, we do have some patches of farmland, thank you very much) and so people drove with their brights on all the time. I would flash my lights (or be flashed at) for deer up ahead, cops up ahead - which is illegal in NJ by the way, forgetting to turn off the brights, or forgetting to put my lights on. If none of these proves to be why you are getting flashed then I would agree with everyone who says to have the angle of your headlights checked - they may be inadvertently pointing in an uncomfortable direction for other drivers.
posted by ebeeb at 12:18 AM on May 12, 2005

Has your car been in any kind of accident? Even the most minor fender bender can cause internal damage that angles the headlights up. That's what happened to my Honda Civic, and I had people flashing their lights at me for the rest of the time I drove the car. Fixing it was impractical, because the frame had been slightly bent.

And also: truckers (at least in these parts) don't flash lights to signal you can pass in front of them -- they turn them off and then back on again a few times. I've taken to the habit myself when around truckers. It's quite useful in late night desert freeway driving.
posted by incessant at 1:00 AM on May 12, 2005

Maybe your lights are too dim to be noticed, and other drivers are trying to let you know that they didn't notice you until you were dangerously close.
posted by ori at 1:09 AM on May 12, 2005

Do you carry passengers in the back seat or keep anything heavy in your trunk? The rear end doesn't need to squat much to pitch the headlights up.
posted by klarck at 4:11 AM on May 12, 2005

klark and Iax get my vote. I was thinking of the "blue" headlights sold aftermarket and on some newer cars (the new Nissan?) When I see them out of the corner of my eye, they sometimes register as police lights. Apparently as you pass on the edge of the focused beam, they flicker.
posted by Doohickie at 4:24 AM on May 12, 2005

Response by poster: Hmm....

The car was bumped from behind about a year ago. We had to replace the rear bumper, but the frame was not bent. I guess the alignment could be out of whack, but I'm not sure I would know for sure. When I pull up to park behind a building and the headlights are on, the bright part of the beam is no higher than the front of the hood. At worst, they are pointing straight out, but definitely not up.
posted by achmorrison at 7:08 AM on May 12, 2005

I get this all the time too. I had my headlights checked - 98 Saturn wagon - and they were fine. So, I just assume that for whatever reason, they look brighter than other cars and people think my brights are on. This was confirmed when I followed a friend home one night and he got all mad about how bright my lights are. You might try this to see if it really is your lights.

There is nothing I can do about it so I ignore it, even though it is irritating as all get out. I thought about getting a large neon sign mounted to the top of my car that reads "THESE ARE NOT MY BRIGHTS, MORON!" but I haven't done it. I might yet, though.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:10 AM on May 12, 2005

In the NE where I grew up, people would flash their highbeams at oncoming cars to warn them of cops that they just passed so the oncomer would slow down if speeding.
posted by tristeza at 9:05 AM on May 12, 2005

If you have newer halogen (or whatever they're called) lights in your car (factory standard on many cars, not even particularly newer ones now) these, to many other drivers (myself included) are VERY distracting and appear like highbeams.

This is mostly because they are a colder white, and colder whites appear brighter to our eyes for the same output level (this is why your TV/monitor are usually purposely miscalibrated to 9300 K instead of 6500 K -- psychologically you want the brightest picture, and by changing the white balance they get free brightness without spending a dime).

Perhaps if you can find aftermarket incandescent lights to replace them people would quit flashing you. Note that you'll get a lot less output from them.

Personally, I never bother flashing anyone for anything but cop cars running revenue traps because I figure every other driver did it already anyways. :-)
posted by shepd at 9:17 AM on May 12, 2005

Why do people insist on flashing from normal-bright and back? Truckers frequently do the smarter option, which is to flick your lights on-off-on. This strikes me as much safer and cannot be mis-interpreted as a bump in the road.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:56 AM on May 12, 2005

Four Flavors: With daytime running lights, you can't turn your headlights off while in gear so normal-off-normal isn't an option.
posted by Monk at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you for all your thoughts and insights. (Especially, shepd and mygothlaundry) I do have the halogen bulbs, but they are exactly the same as what comes from the factory. I'll try pointing them down a little and see if there is an available alternative that is not so annoying to other drivers.
posted by achmorrison at 3:20 PM on May 12, 2005

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