[FOUNTAIN]Headlights least of our worries

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[FOUNTAIN]Headlights least of our worries

Headlights are the facial features of an automobile. Automobile companies emphasize changes in the design of the headlights when they want to differentiate a new model from an old one. Same engine, similar shape but different headlights, and you get a brand new model. There was a time when all headlights were identical; they were purely functional, allowing you to see and others to see you when you were driving. When Karl Benz built the first automobile in 1885, he had carbide lanterns with round reflectors for headlights. For a long time, cars knew no other headlights but round ones, one on the front left of the car, another on the front right.

Then came the era of individuality, and headlights in various shapes and sizes started to appear. The recent fad in headlights, as a matter of fact, seems to be two lights on each side made to look like glaring human eyes. Observe the Hyundai New Sonata or the Mercedez-Benz C class models and you'll see how aggressive these glaring lights look.

Traveling through northern Europe, one sees cars that have their headlights on even during the day. Though understandable during the wintertime when the days are short, why do cars have their headlights on even during bright summer days? Drive a car and you will soon see the reason. Because of the high latitude, the sun in northern Europe often shines straight into a driver's eyes. When driving into the sun, one can barely see a car coming toward you or behind you because of the sunlight in your eyes. Turning on the headlights helps things a little.

Northern European countries have made it a law since the 1970s to drive with the headlights on even during the daytime. Many models sold in those countries have headlights that turn on automatically when the engine is turned on.

Traffic accident rates in those countries have gone down by 10 to 30 percent since headlight use became mandatory. Korea is also thinking of requiring commercial vehicles to keep their headlights turned on even during the day.

Maybe that would help, but speeders and reckless drivers are a much bigger problem. Headlights are not going to help drivers that fly at 100 kilometers per hour in the middle of the city or those unfortunate enough to be around them. Reducing inner-city traffic accidents is simple. Stop speeders, even if it means placing surveillance cameras everywhere, as in Germany. If that fails, we could make car engines that cannot go over 60 kilometers per hour for buses and taxis.

The writer is the Berlin correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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