Are Smart Headlights Coming to American Roads?


Most people know that the high beams allow you to see more of the road, but you can’t very well drive with them on high at all times. It can cause issues for oncoming traffic, and it is rude. The problem is that low beams on most American-made cars don’t give enough light to ensure that drivers can see what’s ahead of them and stop safely.

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If you wonder about the solutions available, you’re not alone. Adaptive driving beam (ADB) headlights use cameras and sensors to shape the high beams of the headlights so that it illuminates the areas without traffic but still giving you ample light along the road where it’s needed. BMW, Audi, Toyota, and Mercedes offer these lighting options, sometimes called smart headlights.

However, in the United States, ADB lights are illegal. While change is on the horizon, it’s not here yet, and it could be scrapped altogether. The US government is contemplating a new rule that allows the smart headlights to be standard on vehicles, but it might take up to two years for approval.

Why a Rule is Needed

The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) requires that all US-made vehicles have distinctly different low and high beams, which means it disallows any lights that can adjust automatically or dynamically.

Low beams aren’t adequate for the task at hand and only allow you to stop quickly enough if you’re going less than 35 miles an hour. Drivers can use high beams when conditions require it, but many don’t. Only about 18 percent of drivers used high beams on rural roads without oncoming traffic.

To improve the use of high beams, some manufacturers make it automatic to switch between high and low beams. The technology uses a camera to turn on the brights when no oncoming traffic is seen. While similar to smart headlights, the camera still limits how much light is available.

Critical Acclaim

Car aficionados and automobile companies have had critical things to say on the government’s position about ADB headlights for many years. They’ve been trying to get the NHTSA to move away from such archaic rules about vehicle lighting.

The agency recently issued a notice that said these headlamps could be allowed in the US, though it still has to be approved.

General Motors is currently interested in ADB headlamps, and most consumers are going to fall in love with them once they’ve tried them. In a sense, smart headlights allow you to always drive with your high beams on, allowing them to automatically adjust as needed.

When more of the road is illuminated, drivers also have more time to react to anything on the road, such as animals, other vehicles, and pedestrians. Many studies have predicted that safety is going to be improved if adaptive beam headlights are used.

How They Work

Two systems must be utilized to product ADB headlamps. While Audi uses many LEDs that are turned on or off in various groups to alter the pattern of the beam, some systems use a combination of shades and projector lamps to cover some areas of the beam when necessary.

Pixel systems are also being developed, as well as laser systems that use micro-mirrors.

Regardless of the technology use, the ultimate goal is to shape light, have it extend the maximum distance, and keep it out of the eyes of oncoming drivers, which requires sophisticated software, cameras, and sensors. While this technology is available, some companies and government officials worry that it hasn’t been tested enough for effectiveness and safety.

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Are Smart Headlights Coming to American Roads?

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