AFS stands for adaptive front-lighting system, or headlights that swivel in the direction a vehicle is turning to illuminate more of the road where the vehicle is heading instead of straight ahead.
Adaptive front lighting is a term used by several manufacturers, including Honda, Mazda, Toyota and others. Other manufacturers have their own brand names, such as the Genesis Adaptive Cornering System and the Porsche Dynamic Light System, and they also are called adaptive headlights or curve-adaptive lights.
Adaptive headlights can have halogen bulbs, high-intensity discharge bulbs or light-emitting diode bulbs. An electric motor turns the lights based on steering wheel angle or, on some vehicles, based on sensors that monitor the road ahead. Some systems also rely on vehicle speed sensors to calculate how much to pivot the lights and then change the height of the light pattern.
Though AFS systems vary in detail, they generally pivot low-beam headlights up to 15 degrees. On some systems, the right headlight pivots less than the left. In addition, in a low-speed, 90-degree turn, only the headlight on the side of the turn direction may pivot in some systems, but on a curving road the headlights will generally pivot in tandem.
Some adaptive headlight systems include automatic high beams, which switch to low beams when they detect traffic ahead from either direction.
Some historians credit the first use of adaptive front lighting to the 1948 Tucker, a car that had several innovative features but wasn’t mass produced because the company failed after only 51 cars were built. The Tucker had two fixed headlights and a third one in the center that pivoted in the direction the car was turning and was called the “Cyclops eye.”
Some cars in the early 20th century, though, also had lights that pivoted through a mechanical link to the steering wheel.
In modern times, adaptive headlights arrived in the early 2000s, first on luxury models. Like other innovations, the technology has spread to lower cost brands such as Mazda, Hyundai, Ford and Honda.
With all systems, the manufacturers claim they give the driver better visibility at night by aiming the headlights in the direction that a vehicle is traveling, and research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows they do provide benefits.
IIHS evaluates headlights as part of its safety tests, and it requires that vehicles earn a rating of good or acceptable (the best and next best) for headlight performance to receive the highest overall vehicle rating of Top Safety Pick Plus.
Most vehicles that receive a good rating for headlight performance are ones with curve-adaptive headlights, and only a handful of models rated good are not equipped with adaptive lighting. For example, Lexus UX models with adaptive headlights received a good rating for headlight performance, but models without are rated poor; both use projector-type LED headlights.
Others, though, don’t qualify for Top Safety Pick Plus even with adaptive headlights, such as some versions of the Mazda CX-30 built before October 2020 (later versions received the top overall rating after the headlights were modified).
A 2020 IIHS report said that curve-adaptive headlights were associated with a 5.8% reduction in the frequency of property damage loss claims and a 1.1% reduction in the frequency of collision claims. The downside, though, was that there was a 4.7% increase in the severity of collision claims, or the average cost of claims by owners of vehicles equipped with curve-adaptive lights.
IIHS noted that curve-adaptive headlights are more expensive than conventional halogen headlights. For example, at that time, the 2017 Subaru Outback’s adaptive headlamp assembly cost $657 versus $355 for a regular halogen headlight assembly.
More From Cars.com:
- Not a Shot in the Dark: 11 Cars Improve IIHS Headlight Safety Ratings
- Report: Headlights Improving, But Most Base Models Still in the Dark
- Blinded by the Light: Approval for High-Tech Headlights May Help
- How Do I Know My Headlights Are Aimed Properly?
Related Video: Headlight Alignment