Americans can now buy cars equipped with adaptive headlights

The last time the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) of the USA amended its federal standard was 38 years ago. It was to permit the use of a more fuel-efficient headlamp design from Ford. Can you even remember what type of headlamps we had back then?

Since then, the Department of Transportation has buckled down. It has been extremely firm about not making any changes to the 55-year old regulation stating that all cars sold in the USA must have low- and high-beam headlamps that cannot operate simultaneously. NHTSA petitioned for a change in 2018 after studies showed how adaptive beam headlights or smart headlamps had the potential to reduce collisions.

Well, change is coming, and it’s happening 18 months sooner. The new infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden early this week includes a stipulation that safety standards regarding headlamps must be updated within two years. Amendments were immediately made, and after these get published in the Federal Register, automakers can begin selling models with smart headlamps.

Adaptive beam headlamps were being championed in the US by Toyota, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz as early as 2013. This isn't about competition. It benefits everyone," said former BMW director of lighting development, Wolfgang Huhn.

Using a variety of sensors, smart headlights automatically change the shape, brightness, and direction of the light using a shutter to block part of the beam. Designs that use a matrix system shuts down several light sources based on the surrounding driving conditions. These are better than automatic headlights as this system does not get confused when it encounters bright streetlights and other external factors.

According to the NHTSA, using adaptive beam headlights can curb the rising pedestrian and driver deaths that occur during nighttime driving.

While this development is considered a major advancement for the American automotive industry, there is one tiny hiccup. Still basing it on a 50-year old rule, the lumens (the measure of light emitted) of smart headlamps in the US won’t be as bright as what all other countries around the world get.