By on October 12, 2018

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration might soon grant automakers a long sought-after wish. On Thursday, the agency put forward a proposal to allow adaptive driving beam headlamps on U.S. passenger vehicles.

ADB lights would solve two problems at once: insufficient roadway illumination, as well as headlight glare. Despite the existence of automatic high beams, automakers currently have to find a happy medium in the amount of low-beam light thrown ahead of the car to prevent blinding oncoming motorists. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which recently added headlight performance to its ratings criteria, plenty of new cars fail to find the right balance.

With ABD headlamps, drivers wouldn’t have to switch between low and high beams. The advent of LED clusters means a car’s headlight could operate continually in high-beam mode, shutting off only the portion of the beam travelling towards oncoming cars and leaving the rest of the road (and the shoulder) brightly illuminated. It’s a system automakers like Toyota and Audi have advocated for for years. Europe allows such headlight systems, but existing U.S. regulations, which specifically call for low and high beams, don’t allow it.

ABD systems “utilize advanced equipment, including sensors (such as cameras), data processing software, and headlamp hardware (such as shutters or LED arrays),” the NHTSA wrote in its proposal. “ADB systems detect oncoming and preceding vehicles and automatically adjust the headlamp beams to provide less light to the occupied roadway and more light to the unoccupied roadway.”

Essentially, the newer system offers a beam that’s “sculpted to traffic on the road,” the NHTSA said, encouraging drivers to use their high beams more often. All of this lends itself to a safer roadway. Nighttime pedestrian deaths, the agency noted, rose 56 percent between 2009 and 2016.

As part of its proposal to amend existing regulations, the NHTSA plans to create a new testing regimen for ABD headlight systems, ensuring that illumination and glare falls within acceptable levels.

[Source: Bloomberg, via Automotive News]

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58 Comments on “Brighter, More Effective Headlights Now a Step Closer...”


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    HEADLIGHTS…WHAT A DISGRACE!!!

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    This is the best news I’ve seen all day. Granted, that’s not a particularly high bar, but still, it’s good. I expected to be waiting another ten years for this, or maybe find out that we’re actually going back to sealed beams.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    “The advent of LED clusters means a car’s headlight could operate continually in high-beam mode . . .”

    I imagine that would be the end of nighttime pedestrian deaths. Who would bother walking after dark if every single vehicle they encounter is shining brights in their face?

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      I’m not sure how precise these systems are, but in theory it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be able to light up everything from the neck down (or some approximation thereof). Not sure whether pedestrian detection or the light precision will allow it now, but within a few years, probably.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Hopefully they do account for pedestrians and cyclists before allowing them to be used in the city. Though I’m not sure why they would even be necessary in that environment. Low beams are more than adequate with all the street lights.

        We could certainly benefit from this sort of advanced lighting on the highways; maybe even in the city if it’s done well. But it’s getting harder to enjoy the evening after dark with all the unpleasant LED lighting around and I fear this sort of thing will become just another arms race and only make it worse.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Agree with the problems pertaining to the abuse of LED lighting. So many people just go with the highest wattage available and grossly over light everything. Worse, they are clueless to what color temperature means and often pick lamps with 5000K or worse! The bluish light is very annoying and most don’t realize that those 4100K lamps they just bought make your home lighting look like an office. Yet, proper color temp LED bulbs are there for sale next to the bluish light bulbs, yet buyer pick the blue ones because they have a slightly higher lumens per watt and nobody has ever educated people on what those numbers mean…

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            Honestly I think the fact that they blind other people is a plus as far as the 19-year-old d***wads buying them are concerned.

      • 0 avatar
        stuntmonkey

        > “The advent of LED clusters means a car’s headlight could operate continually in high-beam mode . . .”

        Actually that’s how they are intended to work with project setups; the “lowbeam” portion is just a switch that blocks off the top portion of the beam; the switch is lifted up for “highbeam”.

        When I got my first set of projectors I thought I was blinding everybody until I realized that the beam pattern cuttoff was very sharp. I’m never going back to reflector type headlights if I can possibly help it.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    I just wish they would police existing aftermarket blinders

  • avatar
    MBella

    I was able to drive a European market vehicle that had these and they are awesome. Hopefully lawmakers get off their asses.

    • 0 avatar
      Lockstops

      I agree. I’ve driven a lot with adaptive led and xenon headlights, up north with very dark winters: adaptive headlights (with adaptive high beam) are by far the best new tech to come out. Most new tech doesn’t really matter, sort of nice to have but that’s it. But adaptive headlights are a revelation.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    I, for one, look forward to the $7000 bill from the minor tap in the parking lot.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I, for one, look forward to people learning to pay attention instead of complaining about how much it costs to fix their car when they clip someone in a parking lot.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        I had someone do $5,000 damage to the front of my car while it was parallel parked. The spot that the parker was struggling to get into? All that was in front of it was a STOP sign. Not everyone has the same experiences that you do, or at the very least they seem to take more away from those experiences.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Next, remove the ability to turn headlights off. They should just be on and then dolts wouldn’t be running around completely invisible.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      Said dolts would find something MORE doltish to do.

      It’s an arms race, and the dolts win every time.

    • 0 avatar
      tylanner

      I disagree….no headlights at night is the best way to identify bad drivers…if you can’t manage to control an on/off switch you shouldn’t be on the road. But if we do it for them the next mistake down the line might end up be forgetting to turn or brake….

      Lowering the price of admission shouldn’t be on our to-do list

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      If you need headlights to see or notice a vehicle in broad daylight, turn in your driver’s license now. Also, if that is the case, then I must conclude that the sides and rear of all vehicles, not having headlights are invisible as well.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        DRLs are great in the country, where I live. They’re not needed in the city.

      • 0 avatar
        john66ny

        @ttacgreg:

        The point of having your headlights on at all times is to be better seen by others, not to assist you to see others.

        Assuming that there are people out there who can’t see a vehicle without its headlights on, and who have yet to heed your advice, I’ll keep mine on at all times ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      Lockstops

      Problem is that if your vehicle breaks down or for some other reason you’re stopped and you want to warn others with your hazards then not being able to turn off your lights is a big problem. Hazards are many times more visible in the dark with your lights off.

    • 0 avatar
      mister steve

      We lived in Maine for a number of years back in the ’90s. The first week we moved there, we were witness to one accident and two near misses, all in broad daylight. That’s when I decided I’d always drive with my headlights on, so I wouldn’t be invisible. It helped that the headlights on my car at the time turned off when I shut the car off.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Why would anyone assume all drivers are always attentive, not distracted, on xanax, drunk, texting, senile, half blind, half awake, or other? Never mind “glare”, morning and late afternoon.

        Run your fog lights at minimum, dawn to dusk. Some cars just blend into their surroundings, gun-metal gray and beige especially, depending on back ground.

        If your car is too dumb to automatically turn your headlights on and off for you, all it takes is a $5 relay (to “accessorize” the headlights switch, like your wipers or radio) and anyone handy enough to install a car radio.

  • avatar

    I always appreciate that when I rent a car in Europe, you are trusted to adjust the height of the low beams from the driver’s seat. There is a small wheel next to the headlamp switch that allows you to move the head lamps up and down a bit. Americans are not trusted with this power, or to understand rear fog lamps.

    Decent lights aren’t a mystery, they’ve existed since the first H4 bulbs or Z Beams. Use a good reflector and quality glass or plastic lenses. Good HID have that projector lens, but there must be a price point for that, it is only found in better cars or on the upgrade lights.

    What we have today is designer motivated, it’s amazing they work at all. Today, I drove home with my base Jetta 1.4, and the base lights were still decent. Not quite as good as H4 with the sharp cutoff, but for DOT legal, decent.

    • 0 avatar
      Lockstops

      With xenon, led and laser lights the manual height adjustment is prohibited in Europe too. Law requires that those must have automatic level adjustment.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        The idea of trusting drivers to adjust the lights manually is frightning. People can’t even be trusted to shut off the rear fog lights off, and some run front fog lights all the time. Don’t even get me started on the aftermarket crap and brodozer light bars. Enforcement against these violations is nonexistent.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      It’s 2018. Can these things adjust themselves?

  • avatar

    I am sure California lawmakers will be against it and Jerry Brown will sue Federal Government.And there will be riots and protests on the streets. Because you know why.

  • avatar

    Leaving California alone – will it apply also to truck drivers? I got impression that trucks need to be in high beam and blind everyone on the road all the time.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      ermgherd the economy will grind to a halt without truck drivers… professhunuhl truck drivers never forget their high beams, or bog down both lanes doing the turtle race thing going up steep hills, or blow out trailer tires all the time, or… you must be imagining all these things and I must conclude that you’re one of those people who automatically hate all truck drivers because of your one comment about high beams auhghhhh

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    After reading some of the comments about the negative side effects of the adaptive driving beam, make me reflect back to when I first got my licence in the late 70s.

    I remember the old farts making comments about the unnecessary driving aids, like seat belts, automatic transmissions, radio, heater and on and on.

    Seems those types still exist today.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Old people are always like that. “If I didn’t need it, no one does.” Then they inevitably mutter “we never had any of that crap, and we turned out just fine” conveniently ignoring all of the people who died for lack of those things.

      Survivorship bias and confirmation bias are poison to critical thought.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Oh God please yes.

    Had a 7 series rental in Europe a few years ago with this technology and it was beyond incredible.

    Approve immediately!

  • avatar
    bunkie

    What I hope for from adaptive headlights is relief from the blinding supernova glare from the hyper-reflective striping on safety barriers that has become so popular at every road work site.

  • avatar

    The average car on the road is now 12.1 years. Plastic headlight covers don’t remain clear nearly that long. Despite repeated polishing (which accelerates subsequent oxidation) people who have driven my SC-400 at night have asked if the lights (low beams) were even on.

    Aging and maintainability need to be addressed by regulations. Perhaps mandate replaceable headlight covers, to be sold @ cost by manufacturers?

    Oh, for the simple days when you replaced a standard sized, GLASS sealed beam, with a fresh one, for under $20. Nowadays you’ve got HID’s and such that can require $500 repairs. Headlights that can’t be aimed to correct for sagged rear springs, etc. Idiots with light bars.

    The whole headlight affair is unsafe and ridiculous. Government and industry at their worst.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Genius, modern headlights are the way they are because of DEregulation. Those sealed beams which you love so much used to be mandatory. All motor vehicles had to choose from a short list of NHTSA approved designs.

      And you know what? They were s**t. Garbage. Dim, ineffective junk. When those regulations were lifted, car companies were free to design their own headlamp assemblies so long as the resultant light output met the requirements.

      And those idiots with light bars are breaking the law.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      I’m with Wade. Let’s start simple. Headlight covers that fade in the sun are bad. Fix that first!

      Next, let’s do something about overly reflective road signs. Yes, I can see the sign, but it’s so bright, I can’t see the freaking road!!!

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Just allow whatever the EU spec is and be done with it. I’m beyond tired of hearing stories like “The new A8 will receive pulse ion generated headlights derived from secret alien technology. However, since all of that is banned in the US for….reasons, US market A8s will use Edison era gas lanterns instead.”

  • avatar

    This would be a good move. NHTSA has mandated inferior headlights for more than 50 years. Overall, the USA would be better off to totally scrap the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and adopt the European rules.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      This. I’ve never understood how we can both bitch about how hard it is to sell US vehicles overseas and steadfastly refuse to unify the US standards with those of other countries.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        Didn’t seem to hurt the Fudion/Mondeo.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Jim,
          Because the US Fusion is different, like the US Ranger is different to our Ranger.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            The current generation Fusion is the same in the US as the Mondeo is elsewhere, minus the differences for regulations such as headlights. This was the main thing in Mullaly’s one Ford strategy.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            The point is the Fusion and Mondeo are basically the same car. This generation was designed in the US and the only substantial differences are powertrains and regulatory stuff like headlamp modules.

            I’m specifically addressing bunkie’s claim that this has something to do with why “we can’t sell American cars over there.” We obviously do; they’re just built over there.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    I’ve coded my BMW to enable this functionality, and it really is impressive just how well it works. It really would make sense to allow more people to have access to the technology.

  • avatar
    desmo21

    I have auto Hi beams on my 2018 F-250 (LED Upgrade). They only work over 30 mph. They are amazing and switch from hi to low quicker than I can do it myself.

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    If you think the federal government can’t screw this up- you haven’t bought a portable gas can in the last 5 years.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I know I am getting a little older, but the new crop of LED festooned cars are blinding to the pint of being dangerous. When I bought my 2000 Lexus GS, it was one of the first cars with HID (which height adjust with the suspension BTW)and those lights were a revelation. Now with the streets full of aftermarket HID, light bars, LED street lamps, and now LED OEM, my headlamps are washed out in all the glare. Night time in the rain is almost undriveable for me now.

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