The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is about to approve smart headlights for the U.S. in use worldwide for over a decade. Here’s why it matters to everyday drivers.
In other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, headlights don’t all have the same glare that ours in North America do. Automakers and their suppliers have known for decades how to reduce glare from oncoming headlights, particularly high beams, while at the same time providing superior lighting for the driver using the headlights. These advanced adaptive driving beams shield the eyes of an oncoming driver from the lights of your vehicle. You won’t notice the lack of lighting because the technology is capable of keeping the light shining in every other area ahead of you.
The lights work in different ways. Some use a mechanical shield to cover a small area of the light projection system to eliminate the light from the area of an oncoming vehicle. Others use multiple bulbs and the ones that would blind a driver approaching can be shut off. The systems are able to work on the move and in corners. The systems also work from behind. They create a shaded tunnel around the car ahead of yours, allowing you to keep your high beams on to see to the sides. Every luxury brand offers this technology now on vehicles for sale in other markets as do many mainstream manufacturers like Mazda.
In 2012, the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) asked NHTSA to consider changing its lighting rules. NHTSA included data showing that advanced lighting was reducing accidents. IIHS noted to NHTSA, “The standard has not been changed fundamentally since 1997, and many of its requirements seem incompatible with newer lighting technologies.”
Then in 2013, Toyota formally petitioned NHTSA to make an exception to its current rules that would allow for new lighting technology. In response, NHTSA set about recreating years of work already done by other regulatory agencies in other markets. NHTSA’s first goal was to establish a baseline for evaluating the effectiveness of these (now mature) headlight technologies. After two years of efforts, NHTSA succeeded. In its August 2015 201 page report titled “Adaptive Driving Beam Headlighting System Glare Assessment,” the agency concluded, “Existing FMVSS No. 108 requirements and the work summarized here together can provide a basis for performance criteria and an objective test procedure for ADB headlighting systems.” In other words, “Yes, measuring the effectiveness of these systems is possible.”
More than three years following that conclusion, NHTSA is now ready to take the same steps that other markets took back when Ashlee Simpson was still making hits. After more than five years of formal study, and more than double that time for the lights having been used in other markets, NHTSA has now concluded these lighting systems have “potentially significant safety benefits in avoiding collisions with pedestrians, cyclists, animals, and roadside objects.”
NHTSA has begun the process of approving the technology and setting in place final standards for its testing. The next step is to convene sessions to allow for public comment. Hopefully before 2020 American market consumers will be seeing the benefits of this now mature technology.
Image Notes: Top of page image courtesy of BMW. Second image courtesy of Hella Lighting.