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Smart headlights have been available for years in other countries and are finally on their way to the United States. The technology is much more sophisticated than the standard headlights currently in use, and they should improve safety and reduce car accidents.
Smart headlights are also known as adaptive driving beam (ADB) headlights. The technology is a huge improvement over the standard systems in most American cars. ADB systems essentially employ full illumination that is modified via cameras and sensors that adapt the shape, brightness, and direction of the light depending on the driving conditions. There are different types of ADB headlights. Some work by shuttering parts of the headlight similar to using an umbrella to block sunlight. Others employ a matrix of many LEDs that turn on and off when needed.
Currently drivers only have a choice between high-beams, which can blind other drivers if left on errantly, or low-beams, which may not be enough to handle inclement weather and fog. The most advanced system available in the U.S. is automatic high-beams, and they are not always reliable. In contrast, adaptive headlights are able to read the road and provide light where it is needed most. ADB headlights also keep extra glare from shining into the eyes of drivers in the opposite lane.
Another feature of ADB technology is the ability of the light to move in the same direction that the car is traveling. If the car turns or rounds a curve, the headlights direct the light around the curve, whereas with a traditional headlight, the light would stay pointed straight ahead, illuminating the side of the road.
The technology incorporated into German carmaker Audi’s headlights creates a carpet of light on the highway that shows the way ahead and widens as the car changes lanes and then narrows when the car has completed the lane change. This can help drivers stay in their lane and anticipate bends in the road.
Another smart headlight system developed by the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University can track the motion of raindrops and snowflakes and then direct the light beams between them using a computer algorithm to predict their position over just a few milliseconds. This both improves visibility for the driver and prevents the glare created by the reflection of headlight beams by precipitation.
According to a study done by the American Automobile Association (AAA), smart headlights are safer for nighttime driving because they illuminate more of the road without blinding other drivers as driving with high-beams on would. The study found that ADB headlights are as much as 86 percent better at providing consistent illumination in the presence of oncoming traffic.
Nighttime driving is riskier than driving during the day. Research by the National Safety Council (NSC) shows that the rate of nighttime crashes is three times that of crashes that occur during daylight hours. In dim light, it is also hardest to avoid collisions with animals, pedestrians, bicyclists, and roadside objects. The AAA study predicted that ADB headlights could reduce crashes with wildlife by 18,000, at a savings of $500 million annually. Pedestrian accidents could be reduced by six percent. Consumer Reports says that the additional illumination of 250 feet provided by ADB headlights could be the difference between being able to react in time and hitting an obstacle.
First introduced by three major automakers in Germany, smart headlight technology has been available in Europe and Asia for over a decade and is also already in use in Canada. General Motors produces cars for China that are equipped with ADB technology capable of producing 34 different beam patterns.
Implementation of smart headlight technology in the United States was delayed for many years simply because of an antiquated rule from 1967 that stated all cars must have two kinds of headlight beams: high and low. Since ADB technology does not meet this specification, it has been banned until now.
Many foreign cars have ADB headlights, but they are deactivated when imported into the United States. After the new law goes into effect, the smart headlights can be easily reactivated through a software update. The change has been supported by many safety advocates and automakers, like Audi, Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
When Americans finally do get the chance to buy a car with smart headlights, there will be a significant cost. Currently, ADB compatible headlights can cost between $3,400 and $6,600 more than regular headlights.
The provision in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act regarding smart headlights says that ADB headlights must be approved for use in the United States within two years. Experts say this is a chance for America to catch up with safety standards in the rest of the world. However, safety advocates such as Consumer Reports are hoping the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require manufacturers to follow up with data on the new technology’s performance here and consumer experiences. Such data is extremely valuable in strengthening and fine-tuning safety standards to increase protection for everyone using the road, including pedestrians and cyclists.
Smart headlights are expected to increase safety and reduce nighttime accidents. At night, you should always be extra cautious while driving. If you have been involved in a nighttime accident, our Wilmington car accident lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow can help you explore your legal options. Call us at 302-427-9500 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Bear, and Milford, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Middletown, Dover, Milford, Lewes, Rehoboth, Elsmere, and Seaford.