Theme : Headlamps – Mellow Yellow?

Yellow Headlamps at Night

Once upon a time a trip to France from the UK was special. Not only did the cars look different but, at night, the roads came alive with lamps that were, uniquely, amber coloured. I admit that I enjoyed this. It gave French cars the same ‘interesting’ look that Jean-Luc Godard’s tinted glasses gave him. French cars were more intellectual.

At first, I religiously amberised my headlamps before visiting France, which meant either changing headlamp bulbs or fitting coloured beam deflectors. Unless I had sealed beam units, my preference was for the former, since the latter looked rather too ‘British’, the automotive look of pasty white legs and a knotted hanky on the head. For a while I revelled in this ability to achieve instant Gallic cool but I gradually had to admit that I would always be an imposter.


By night, my two yellow beams might fool them but, as soon as I pulled in to a service station and they saw that GB plate and heard “Der Plan Avek Sooper Sill Voo Play”, I would be found out. I also realised that German and Italian motorists visiting France didn’t bother going yellow. So I stopped and I just deflected my normal UK beams and put up with the occasional self righteous flashing from someone whose eyeballs were being seared by the white light radiating from my two 45 watt tungsten units on dipped beam. I was no longer a frustrated Frenchman; I was a European, happy to ignore the hypochondriacal preferences of my neighbours.

Finally, in 1993, France relented and joined the rest of us, but were they right to do so? The amber colour is termed Selective Yellow and the thinking behind this was that it decreased glare by removing those parts of the visible spectrum that the eyes have problems processing. My own experience was that yellow headlamps omitted less light, which is undeniable, but, back then, I had younger eyes and they were better at coping with glare.

Many of today’s headlamps are ludicrously harsh, with a sharp cut off. Being followed on London back roads by a modern Range Rover, say, on dipped beam is an irritating experience since, each time it rises over a speed hump, the relatively high-mounted headlights dazzle. Certainly, for daylight running lamps, soft amber would be my preference to the harsh white LEDs currently seen.

These may be effective on a single vehicle viewed on country lanes but, in cities, they just increase the visual noise and end up negating the intention of maximising the visibility of individual vehicles. Maybe the subtle, intellectual approach was best after all.

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