Disallow importation of xenon HID light components

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) congratulates the Road Transport Department for its ongoing success in curbing the illegal use of Xenon HID (High Intensity-Discharge) lights on vehicles in the country.

Xenon lights are a proven hazard to Malaysian motorists. They are far more suited for use in European countries where visibility is low due to foggy conditions or during winter. Improperly retrofitted ones serve no purpose in our climatic conditions other than to blind other motorists with their glare. Motorists here who install these lights with their excessive glare and intensity have been directly and indirectly responsible for accidents and the deaths of other motorists.

As far back as 2004 and following complaints by numerous motorists, CAP has urged the authorities to ban Xenon HID lights from our roads. The Road Transport Department (RTD) has acted stringently against motorists who retrofit Xenon HID lights to their vehicles by enforcing the law against the use of these lights, especially as provided for in Section 99(2)(ii) of the Rules for Motorised Vehicles (Construction and Use) 1959. In 2007, the Government even contemplated banning Xenon HID lights altogether. Unfortunately, this ban did not materialise. Instead, the Government has acceded to EU standards by being signatory to the World Forum for Harmonization of Motor Vehicle Regulations (WP29). Under this agreement, our own Rules for Motorised Vehicles (Construction and Use) 1959 were amended in 2007 to allow for the importation of cars with OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Xenon HID lights in compliance with United Nation Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Regulations.

These imported vehicles may be equipped with self-levelling and self-cleaning mechanisms and even adaptive technology for their OEM Xenon HID lights (in order to minimise obtrusive and blinding glare to other motorists). Locally retrofitted ones from auto accessory shops are usually bare fitted ones with no supporting safety technology and with beams improperly aligned for safe use. These are the ones that pose a real danger to other motorists.

Even with the present economic downturn, motorists seem to be increasingly intent on purchasing and installing these objectionable lights with their barely sufficient incomes. This worrying trend is made possible by car accessory shops which are highly competitive in their pricing for these lights. Based on a survey carried out by CAP, Xenon HID light packages consisting of only bulbs and ballasts and compatible to one of the most widely used cars in the country, the Proton Saga (previous model), cost as low as RM200 to install. These headlight sets are mostly imported from China, Korea, Japan and Germany and have an advertised colour temperature range of between 4300K and 12500K (Kelvin Rating, a colour temperature of between 6000K and 8000K will closely replicate sunlight). These HID light kits typically produce up to 3,500 lumens of luminous power as opposed to about 1,400 lumens from an average halogen bulb. They are imported as components and not as complete systems as specified in the (amended) Rules for Motorised Vehicles (Construction and Use) 2007 and UNECE regulations.

With the proliferation of these illegal aftermarket modifications, CAP is concerned with the latest statistics released by the RTD. According to them, 248 summonses were issued to motorists in 2005 for illegally retrofitting Xenon HID lights to their vehicles, 323 in 2006 and the number continued to increase to 689 in 2007. More recently, a total of 865 motorists were summoned for the offence in 2008. This works out to an average of 72 cases a month. What is alarming however is that for January this year alone, a total of 277 motorists were found to have been driving vehicles illegally retrofitted with these lights. This would work out to be an average of 3324 cases for the whole of 2009; a sharp increase indeed.

While the RTD has been diligent in their ongoing campaign against irresponsible motorists who endanger the lives of others with their illegally modified vehicles, CAP questions the Government’s rationale with regards to this issue. On one hand it has the RTD working tirelessly to enforce the ban while on the other hand, it has the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) allowing the wholesale import of Xenon HID light bulbs and ballasts for aftermarket installations as partial packages and not as complete systems as stipulated in the Road Transport Act. This would amount to a deliberate sabotage of public safety and the RTD’s efforts in upholding the law.

In a recent media report, the RTD, after issuing 20 summonses over the course of one week in Seremban, is now planning to organize a dialogue session with car accessory shop owners in a bid to “advise” them to stop installing Xenon HID lights “as it is against the law.”

The law is clear on the issue of Xenon HID lights. Rule 96 (2)(i) of the Road Transport Act explicitly states that a conversion to Xenon HID lights is allowed ONLY with the provision that the entire lighting system conforms to specifications provided for in UNECE Rules 48, 98 and 99 and is installed accordingly. An additional directive by the RTD specifies that the conversion must be also accredited by SIRIM.

While the RTD has done a commendable job in enforcing these laws with regards to errant motorists, its approach to this issue by way of engaging car accessory shop owners in discussion will not offer a permanent solution to the problem. They are merely beneficiaries of lax import rulings.

CAP is of the view that the RTD is barking up the wrong tree and should instead engage MITI to question them as to why they knowingly allow the importation of incomplete Xenon HID light systems in indirect contravention of the Road Transport Act. The fault lies not only with accessory shop owners but the Ministry which allows the shop owners to import, sell and install illegal aftermarket automobile accessories in blatant disregard of the Act. It would be understandable if MITI allowed only the import of OEM components as replacement parts or complete Xenon HID light systems which conform to UNECE rules but as statistics show, this is not the case.

CAP calls on MITI to take heed of this ongoing problem and immediately disallow the importation of Xenon HID light components that do not conform to UNECE Rules and which violate the Road Transport Act.