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The Feds work in mysterious ways. Especially when it comes to lighting, we lag way behind because the Feds don’t like change, and are afraid with that change will come more highway deaths. But adaptive headlights have been used in Europe since 2006. Today, after much fighting by the automakers in favor of adding them, the Feds have finally approved adaptive lighting.

What do adaptive headlights do?

Man standing in front of a car with the high beam headlights activated
Man in front of high beam headlights | Unsplash

So the first thing is: what are they? Adaptive headlights move the beam of light away from oncoming traffic in high beam mode. Now, the best we have is to flick the high beams off when a car approaches. When it passes, we flick the high beams back on. It is a courtesy for opposing traffic, and we’re sure you know why. Everyone has been blasted in the face with high beams, and it is just not safe.

So adaptive headlight technology can actually move the beam around, not just turn it on or off. The headlights incorporate a mix of small high and low beam lights. It can adjust the direction and intensity of the beams for oncoming traffic, so you still have high beams. They’re just dimmed in the area of the opposing vehicle. 

Adaptive headlights help bicyclists too

The same holds true for bicyclists. When the camera in front detects a person riding a bike, it dims the beam aimed at them, removing the glare a bicyclist would experience without this feature. And adaptive headlights phase the high beam in and out so the driver can adjust his or her eyes more easily. 

Cars made by Audi have had these for years in the US. They have been blocked in the ECU to comply with US Federal mandates. So there is a chance that the next time you bring your Audi into a dealership, it can deactivate the block, instantly giving you adaptive technology.

President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill approval mandated the change to adaptive technology within two years. For once, the Feds are ahead of that mandate, by signing into law the change today. But without the mandate, we would still have lighting requirements that haven’t changed much since the allowance for sealed beam bulbs in 1940.  

Toyota has been fighting for them since 2013

Close-up view of car headlights shining in snowy weather
Close-up view of car headlights shining | Unsplash

And that is what the car companies have been requesting for at least 10 years. Toyota started petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013. After five years, the NHTSA submitted a proposal in favor of changing the law. Then, nothing happened. Unlike a regular business, there was no pressure nor interest from the Trump administration to do anything about it. So the proposal sat.

Whether you like him pr not, Biden’s Infrastructure Bill forced the NHTSA to amend the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108, regulating lighting, signaling, and reflective devices. Performance-based rules for adaptive driving headlights are forthcoming. Just like a dinosaur, it takes a while for the brain to make the tail wag-or something like that. 

In the past, it would take another two- to three years before consumers would see a change like this in production. But this being electronically-based technology, it shouldn’t take that long before we start seeing it in every new vehicle made. 


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