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Blinded by the Light? Approval for High-Tech Headlights May Help

img 767940866 1539370725186 jpg photo by Fred Meier

Headlight glare from improved headlight systems is one of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s biggest sources of complaints as far back as halogen lamps in the 1980s. Now, the regulator has announced that it would consider an OK for new high-tech headlamps that shape their beam for traffic ahead.

Related: IIHS Takes Dim View of SUV Headlights

The technology, which has been in use in Europe for many years, is believed to provide the illumination of high beams while using sensors to adjust the pattern of the light beam to keep from blinding drivers ahead or coming at you. But the adaptive driving beam technology has run afoul of NHTSA’s specific regulations for headlights and high and low beams. ADB technology goes beyond adaptive systems that automatically shift from high to low beams or that adapt to changes in the car’s direction to alter specific parts of the light beam.

It will be a while before we actually see such lights, if ever. NHTSA proposed Thursday to begin testing such lights to see if they can provide better nighttime visibility while meeting its rules protecting other drivers from glare. The administration said it was acting in response to a petition for approval that Toyota made several years ago.

But it appears likely that NHTSA will move forward. NHTSA noted in its announcement that an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report shows that nighttime pedestrian deaths rose 56 percent from 2009 to 2016; IIHS has been an advocate through its testing for better headlights. NHTSA said that ADB lighting “offers potentially significant safety benefits in avoiding collisions with pedestrians, cyclists, animals, and roadside objects.” But it also noted that it has had more than 5,000 complaints about headlight glare since it began asking for comments in 2001.

NHTSA said the goal of its testing would be to require that ADB headlights be able to mix the advantages of traditional high- and low-beam headlights. It wants the part of the beam “cast near other vehicles [to] comply with the current lower-beam” rules and that “the part of the adaptive beam that is cast onto unoccupied roadway comply with the upper-beam minima,” with the direction of both parts minimizing glare for others.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Photo of Fred Meier
Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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