Ford says it’s testing some new lighting technology that promises to make driving safer. Too bad American drivers probably won’t see it for a long time — if ever.
The press release from Ford said the automaker’s Camera-Based Front Lighting System can widen the lights’ beam at junctions and roundabouts to better illuminate hazards that are not in the direction of travel. Meanwhile, Ford said its Spot Lighting System can draw the driver’s attention to cyclists, pedestrians, and even large animals in the vehicle’s path or just off the road.
Ford Research and Advanced Engineering Vice President Ken Washington said, “Many people who drive at night have had to quickly react to someone or something suddenly appearing in the road — as if from nowhere. Ford’s Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting System and Spot Lighting help ensure the driver is quickly alerted to people or animals that could present a danger.”
Those lighting technologies sound great to me — particularly the Spot Lighting System. I have plenty of reason for wanting a feature like that on my vehicles. The close calls we have with wildlife here in my neck of the woods make any drive after sunset an adventure.
Several years ago, I was working the graveyard shift and was on my way home about an hour before dawn on cold winter Sunday when a herd of deer totaled my pickup truck and nearly sent me into a barrel roll. I only saw one deer — and then, just its nose. That one clipped my front driver’s side turn signal. I was told by law enforcement that at least two others, possibly three, had run headlong into the side of my truck. It was a freak occurrence where the herd of deer headed across the highway just as I crossed their path. So boom! Boom-boom! went the deer into the driver’s side of my truck.
Upon investigating the damage after I managed to get the truck stopped, it became apparent that the last deer to make impact had got caught under the rear bumper. That explained why the rear end broke loose on me just as I stabbed the brake and clutch pedals with maximum force. The truck only had ABS on the rear (drum) brakes. I fishtailed a full 90 degrees to the left, then to the right, then realized my truck’s engine had shut off — a likely byproduct of its inertia sensor shutting off the fuel supply to avoid any kind of nasty, post-crash fire in the event of a rollover. Ergo, I had no power brakes, and my brake pedal got as hard as a rock while not doing anything to slow my truck. After hearing a momentary chattering of the tires on the pavement and a split second of thinking I was about to experience a rollover crash first-hand, I finally got the truck straightened out and stopped it by pumping the handbrake.
Ford’s Spot Light System would have been a handy addition for my Nissan back then. Ford said the technology is currently in “pre-development” at its Aachen, Germany research facility. The press release said it uses an infrared camera in the front grille to simultaneously located and track up to eight people and bigger animals including large dogs at a range of up to nearly 400 feet. Ford claims the system can spotlight two hazards for the driver using a spot and a stripe on the road surface illuminated by two special LED lamps mounted near the fog lights. The highlighted objects are then shown on a screen inside the car, Ford said, and marked in a red or yellow frame on that screen depending on the system’s perception of danger presented by each object.
That system might very well have spotted the herd of deer approaching from my left before my sleepy eyes did that fateful morning all those years ago.
As for the Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting System, Ford said it builds upon the Adaptive Front Lighting System and Traffic Sign Recognition technologies already available in Ford cars — in Europe, not in the U.S.
And therein resides our quandary: All this development work is being done by automakers to equip new cars with better, safer lighting technologies, and yet, our federal DOT regs are stuck in the past and will invariably take far too long to accept those technologies. Audi’s animated LED turn signals? Not legal here. Matrix LED headlights — themselves essential to Ford’s Adaptive Front Lighting System? Not legal here. Volvo’s Active High Beam Control, a matrix-LED lighting technology that uses a “curtain” system to shield oncoming traffic from your lights and in essence allows you to use high beams all the time? Not legal here. Mercedes has shown that you can use spotlighting technology to draw American drivers’ attention to possible dangers — such as pedestrians or wildlife — off the roadway, but using that technology to illuminate those dangers if they are actually in the roadway runs afoul of our federal lighting laws.
I asked the Ford rep who forwarded me the press release if the Camera-Based Advanced Front Lighting, Adaptive Front Lighting, or Spot Lighting systems would be included on any future Fords available in the U.S., given our country’s longstanding resistance to new lighting technologies. Her only comment: “Ford does not comment on future production plans. All I can say is stay tuned.”
Stay tuned I will. But I won’t be holding my breath.