Over the past few years, more and more vehicles are starting to offer ambient interior lighting as a standard or optional feature. Ambient lighting is the soft illumination around the car’s center console, door handles and pulls, cupholders and sometimes completely across the dash and in the vehicle’s footwells.
Typically, ambient interior lighting is seen as a purely cosmetic feature, serving no inherent vehicle safety function. But the lighting may increase a driver’s perceived safety and quality of the car, according to a new study conducted by BMW and the Lighting Engineering Group at Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany.
Interior ambient lighting increases spatial perception, making the vehicle’s interior feel bigger at night, the study says. The lights may also decrease fatigue when driving a light-equipped vehicle at night, but the study had inconclusive evidence regarding ambient lighting’s effect on “alertness” or the light’s ability to improve a driver’s mood or performance.
Moreover, drivers thought ambient lighting increased the perceived quality of the car’s materials and design. They also found that the lighting made a car’s controls easier to use.
Brightness of the car’s ambient lighting system was a critical factor in the study. If the lights were too bright, drivers started to find the system distracting. Keeping the car interior illumination below 0.1 candelas per square meter will keep glares from forming on the plastics of the interior, which will reduce the possibility of distraction, previous studies have shown. In general, drivers want to be able to control the car’s illumination and light levels, the study says.
The color used was reportedly not important in affecting the driver’s emotional state, but it was important in forming brand-specific automotive identities.
Most auto-makers are taking the bait with GMC using a red lighting system, Chevrolet and Buick blue, BMW orange, Saab green and Mercedes yellow. Ford offers an ambient interior lighting system that lets you can choose from seven different lighting colors in the vehicle’s interior, which isn’t great for brand marketing, but great for personal expression.