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By signing into law President Biden’s massive infrastructure bill, a cascade of changes come to transportation. One of the best is that the US will finally come into the 21st century when it comes to headlights. Traditionally, the US has been very slow in adopting better headlight standards, with Europe being the leader. But now adaptive headlights will finally come to the US.

What are adaptive headlights?

This is something that Europe has mandated for years in the name of better lighting. Adaptive headlights utilize the ever-increasing role of computer technology developments. This creates high-precision lighting at night. 

Adaptive headlights use an array of tiny LED lights combined with tiny mirrors. The computer can aim the lights to focus in very specific areas. Illuminating specific traffic lanes is now possible. Also, objects on the road or next to it. And they can even be arranged to spell out words and symbols ahead of the vehicle. 

Adaptive headlights direct away from oncoming drivers

Adaptive headlights
Traffic on road with bad visibility | Getty

Eliminating blinding glare directed at oncoming drivers is another big advantage. Adaptive headlights help this problem, too. They illuminate around oncoming cars, leaving the car itself in a shadow. The result is better visibility for the driver while sparing oncoming drivers that white flash of light that comes with stationary lighting. 

Today vehicle components communicate with the ECU thousands of times a second. Determining the car’s location via GPS, yaw, pitch, and speed is then available by the computer. Now the headlights can direct light around a curve without steering input, and aim up a hilly road before the car begins its ascent. 

Why have adaptive headlights been banned in the US?

adaptive headlights
Traffic and pedestrians at night | Getty

Until now, using a combination of bright light and shadows in a single lamp unit is the basis for the ban. This original 1967 safety standard needs to be amended before we start seeing adaptive headlights used in our vehicles. The new lighting bill allows for two years to make that happen. 

The first cars to have it once the 1967 safety standard is amended will be Mercedes and Audi. That’s because adaptive lighting is offered on some of their premium models. The trickle-down from being a high-end option to become available on mainstream vehicles will take years. But at least it is going to happen here at some point. 

When do we get them?

adaptive headlights
Traffic on road at night | Getty

Until that time, expect stationary LED headlights to become standard virtually across the board. Right now these are not available on some less expensive models. By the time that takes effect, we’ll see adaptive lighting available on more expensive vehicles. 

So driving at night may become more pleasurable, and it will definitely become safer to use. Plus, it will create an entirely new driving experience for Americans once it starts showing up.


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