NHTSA Mulls Changing Laws To Allow Cooler Headlights
Traditionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is slow to make changes to its safety regulations. One famous example is its very slow-moving rules on headlights. After it established rules for sealed-beam headlamps in 1940, it didn’t allow more free-form units until 1983. Now, the auto industry has been pushing for years for the NHTSA to take the next step and allow adaptive driving beam headlights, and the agency has finally agreed to consider it.
Adaptive driving beam headlamps use carefully directed lights. When connected to a front-facing camera, the car can recognize oncoming cars or reflective signs and reduce the lighting pointing at that spot, whether by dimming LEDs or using mechanical shades. Essentially, this lets you have your high beams on all the time without blinding people.
NHTSA rules currently let you have high beams and low beams. No in-between beams allowed. Automakers have lobbied for this to change since 2013, when adaptive driving beam headlamps became possible.
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This system could presumably help automakers with tests from another leading safety organization: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In recent years the IIHS implemented a difficult headlight test to promote automaker development of lamps that provide adequate illumination without blinding people.
Despite this, the IIHS recognizes that the safety of a given driver’s headlights is generally up to them, since the switch from low beams to high beams is usually manual. It found that 80 percent of drivers fail to turn on their high beams when they should.
All in all, it is possible that we will soon see some very interesting new headlamps on the road. On the other hand, keep in mind these will likely come to luxury cars long before making it to more affordable models.