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NHTSA Moving to Allow Adaptive Headlamps on Motor Vehicles in the U.S.

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【Summary】The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Thursday said it was moving to allow advanced headlights known as “adaptive driving beams” to be used in vehicles on U.S. roads that could help prevent crashes at night.

Eric Walz    Oct 12, 2018 5:53 PM PT
NHTSA Moving to Allow Adaptive Headlamps on Motor Vehicles in the U.S.
author: Eric Walz   

Driving at night is statistically less safe than driving during the daytime due to reduced visibility. The problem is compounded when a driver is blinded by an oncoming car with its high-beams turned on, or a car approaching from behind.

To address this problem automakers have offered advanced, adaptive headlamps on some models for the past ten years to help reduce glare and increase visibility. These headlamps switch from high beam to low automatically. However, these new headlights were not approved for use in the U.S. due to current regulations, which are currently under review.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Thursday said it was moving to allow advanced headlights known as "adaptive driving beams" to be used in vehicles on U.S. roads that could help prevent crashes at night.

According to Reuters, the NHTSA said it was proposing to amend current safety rules that bar the advanced lights but will still need to take final action after receiving public comment before it can the allow the new lights on models in the U.S. The agency is also proposing new test measures to ensure the systems work as planned.

The NHTSA said the lights offer "potentially significant safety benefits in avoiding collisions with pedestrians, cyclists, animals, and roadside objects."

eye-tracking-headlights-technology-from-opel-currently-in-development_5 (1).jpg

An illustration of adaptive headlamps from automaker Opel

Unlike some automatic headlights that switch between high and low beams, ‘adaptive headlights' use sensors, cameras, data-processing software, and other hardware to detect oncoming and preceding vehicles and automatically adjust the headlamp beams.

Adaptive lights use the yaw and pitch of the car and other factors such as steering wheel position and elevation to adjust the beams lower, keeping as much light as possible on the road. A good example of this when a driver is traveling up a steep hill. With conventional headlights, the angle of the car causes the beams to point upwards, instead of on the roadway.

The NHTSA Under Pressure From Automakers

The agency said it was acting in response to a petition filed by Toyota Motor Corp in 2013 to allow the lights, which provide more illumination than existing lights without a glare to oncoming motorists by using additional sensors to automatically adjust lights.

Volkswagen also petitioned the agency in 2016 to allow the lights on its Audi A7 luxury sedan, while BMW filed a similar petition in October 2017.

At the direction of Congress, NHTSA began extensive research into the impact of nighttime glare back in 2005. The agency noted that a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that pedestrian deaths in dark conditions jumped 56 percent from 2009 to 2016.

NHTSA has received thousands of complaints about headlight glare over the last four decades, especially with the introduction of brighter halogen bulbs in the late 1970s and then high-intensity discharge (HID) lights in the 1990s.

In addition to adaptive driving beams, there are even more advanced headlights developed by Mercedes Benz that use individual LEDs that can be switched on and off instantly to illuminate certain areas of the roadway or on objects ahead. These light are even capable of projecting an image on the roadway, such as a snowflake to alert the driver to icy conditions.

The system works by using cameras and computer vision processing to detect objects or other vehicles ahead and adjusts the beams of the headlights automatically to provide greater visibility—without blinding other drivers.

Perhaps one day these advanced types of headlights will become a standard on vehicles in the U.S. The move by the NHTSA to allow for adaptive headlamps could be an important first step to make it happen.


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