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TOYOTA ALREADY has improved high-beam lighting available on its European and Japanese models. I hope the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration honors this company’s recent petition to allow such systems in the U.S. Also I’m happy to report that, this time around, SAE International is on the side of brightness and light.
The Toyota system uses an on-board camera to identify other vehicles. It automatically dims the portion of high-beam illumination that would otherwise adversely affect the other drivers’ vision. This luminescent diversion is achieved by an adaptive shutter—and therein lies the regulatory hassle.
Currently, NHTSA allows automatic dimming from high to low beam. Also permitted are swiveling headlights that illuminate in cornering. But “adaptive” settings of high beams are prohibited.
Toyota has already fitted such headlights to about 1600 Lexus LS models sold in Europe and 15,000 Toyota Crowns and Lexus LSs in Japan. Mercedes-Benz is scheduled to offer a similar shutter system, its Adaptive High Beam Assist PLUS, on its newly introduced S-Class. Audi is developing a Matrix Beam system, sans shutters, but with control of an array of LEDs, each pointed in a specific direction.
NHTSA appears to be amenable to a change in regulation. It’s starting a research project this year to assess efficacy of such systems. There’s also the regulatory comment period that’s part of Toyota’s petition.
SAE International is also getting involved through its Lighting Systems Group, composed of member-engineer committees promulgating standards in the area.
An editorial in Automotive News, May 13, 2013, offers two excellent suggestions: NHTSA should let Toyota and other automakers bring in a few thousand cars, under waiver, and evaluate adaptive high beams in the real world. Also, it should accept SAE International’s offer to explore standards in this regard.
For a 44-year period, 1939 to 1983, U.S. regulations and SAE standards stuck doggedly to sealed-beam headlights. By the 1980s, this technology was decidedly inferior to European lighting. Eventually, though, standards and regulations have been keeping up—until now.
NHTSA says nearly half of traffic fatalities occur in darkness; this, despite the fact that only 25 percent of driving takes place under such conditions. Obviously vehicle lighting is but one aspect of this. And, in fact, the Toyota petition predicts that adaptive high beams could save an estimated nine pedestrians of the average 2334 who die annually in the U.S. because of dark driving conditions.
Though nine of 2334 may not seem a big payoff, any saving of life is important, especially when accompanied by a general improvement in nighttime driving conditions. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013