Skip to main content

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) prioritizes car safety on America’s roads, whether inside or outside a vehicle. The agency is trying to enhance vehicle performance to minimize deaths and economic losses from car crashes by enacting adaptive driving beams headlights, which are self-adjusting and don’t need your direct control.

The NHTSA is finalizing a ruling to permit adaptive driving beam headlights, or smart headlights, in the United States to accomplish the mission. Here is what you need to know about smart headlights and their importance.

What you need to know about adaptive driving beams

Hedgehogs illuminated by car headlights, such as 'smart headlights' approved by NHTSA
Hedgehogs illuminated by car headlights | Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to The Verge, Adaptive Driving Beams (ADBs) are headlights with self-operating beams operated by a computer that aims lights in different directions. The ADB can directly brighten your path while keeping bright lights off pedestrians and oncoming drivers.

When sensors detect oncoming or preceding vehicles, they partially block or turn off beams, thus ensuring that other drivers are not blinded. Meanwhile, the rays not shining on the oncoming cars keep full brightness, illuminating your path ahead.

In short, ADB headlights shed light on the road while casting a shadow on other cars to avoid reducing their visibility.

Why do drivers need smart headlights?

ADB has a wide range of benefits for drivers, including brightening the driving environment and enhancing visibility at night or in low-light conditions. Unlike traditional headlights, which are in a fixed position, smart adaptive headlights are flexible, brightening objects at all corners, thus enabling you to detect all cars in front of you.

The technology increases focus by allowing you to pay keen attention to animals, objects, or cars that are brightened by ADB, particularly on curves. ADBs also enable drivers to scan ahead for potential hazards quickly and at the same time enhance pedestrians’ and bicyclists’ safety by increasing their visibility at night.

If you have ever driven through fog, rain, or other unclear weather at night, you probably know the frustration of adjusting low and high beam headlight settings only to find that neither fits the condition.

While smart headlights won’t solve everything in these conditions, they can light up the road ahead with higher accuracy and minimal reflection from the heavy fog. As a result, Adaptive Driving Beams can change the shape of the light beam to incorporate fog light. Therefore, they can direct the light lower and to the side of the road for clear visibility compared to what traditional headlights can do. ADB systems ensure that you are safe even in poor weather conditions.

Smart adaptive headlights are finally approved in the U.S.

Initially, smart and high-tech adaptive driving beams were not offered in the U.S. because of FMVSS 108, a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety and Standard policy mandating that vehicles sold in the U.S. must have differentiated low beam and high beam patterns. 

FMVSS 108 specified the requirements for lamps and reflectors back in 1967, which systematized binary high/low beams and suppressed the adaptation of newer headlight technology. Therefore, adaptive headlights, available on many cars in most parts of Europe and Canada, had been illegal in the U.S. until recently, when the NHTSA passed a new ruling permitting automakers to install ADB headlights or smart headlights on new cars.

According to Yahoo News, the policy comes almost 10 years after Toyota petitioned the NHTSA to permit the implementation of the technology and a few months after President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill was passed. The bill directed the NHTSA to amend the FMVSS 108 regulation in two years, but it managed to make the change only a year later.

Now, adaptive headlights will soon be on American cars and trucks, thanks to the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that mandates their use.


When to Use and Not Use High and Low Beam Headlights