After a multi-year push from automakers, NHTSA recently proposed changes to the long standing federal laws governing headlights.  For years, NHTSA only permitted high beams and low beams in headlights.  Although some automakers offer auto dimming headlights, the beams are limited to switching between traditional high and low beams due to government standards.

In the European Union, vehicles are permitted to have adaptive driving beam headlights.  Adaptive driving beams such as matrix LED lights use sensors to detect oncoming objects, and adapt the beams to avoid projecting high beam light directly onto oncoming cars and drivers.

NHTSA’s proposal to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108: Maps, reflective devices, and associated equipment, proposes to “permit the certification of adaptive driving beam head lighting systems.”  According to the notice, Toyota Motor North America petitioned NHTSA to permit manufacturers to use ADP systems.  NHTSA is proposing standards to ensure such headlights meet appropriate safety and performance requirements if used by manufacturers.

Automakers believe these changes are going to make drivers safer by both avoiding high beams blinding oncoming drivers, while encouraging drivers to use high beams when needed on dark roads.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has analyzed headlights in several studies, finding that a big problem facing vehicles, and particularly SUVs, is too much incoming glare that blind oncoming drivers.  However the IIHS also found that 80% of drivers fail to turn on their high beams when they should be using them.  These countervailing problems could both be solved by adaptive driving beams.

Comments on the proposed rules are due by December 11, 2018.