AAA study shines light on headlight safety in the U.S.

Posted at 12:01 AM, Apr 16, 2019

Night driving is ranked as the highest fatality rate for drivers and pedestrians totaling about two million crashes with more than 18,000 fatalities just in 2016.

However, researchers say the number of fatalities could be reduced with better lighting.

Research from AAA, in partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, shows an increase in roadway lighting by 86 percent with adaptive driving beam headlights (ADB) when compared to U.S. low beam headlights.

Europe and Canada currently have vehicles with ADB, but the technology is still not allowed by U.S. standards. AAA supports changes in federal law to allow the use of ADB on vehicles in the U.S.

“Driving at night doesn’t have to be such a risky undertaking for Americans,” said John Nielsen, managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, AAA. “The technology not only exists but is being used in other parts of the world to effectively provide the amount of light needed to keep drivers and pedestrians safer.”

ADB headlights serve as high beams that are always on, and when another vehicle is detected, that area is shaded to prevent glare that could interfere with the other driver’s vision.

More than half of Americans do not regularly use their high beams which improve forward illumination by 28 percent. The addition of ADB beams would have automatic high beams built in.

Some newer U.S. vehicles are equipped with technology that switches between high and low beam automatically, but only when other vehicles are not visible. Once a car is detected, the vehicle will switch from high to low beams defeating the purpose of always having additional light.

“In California, fatalities in different lighting conditions in 2016 were nearly 4,000 with more than 55 percent of them (2,120) occurring in darkness,” said the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center Manager Megan McKernan. “By failing to properly light roadways at moderate speeds, like 40 miles per hour, a pedestrian or animal may not become visible to a driver until it’s too late to react or stop.”

In the U.S., headlights are evaluated by static testing in a lab. New technological systems like ADB require the presence and location of other vehicles along with camera and sensor software used to control the beam pattern for better evaluation.

“Real-world driving does not take place in a lab,” continued Nielsen. “Roads vary in so many ways – some have hills, others sharp turns – by not conducting track testing, a lot of valuable insight is missed into how headlight technology could be enhanced.”

After a petition from Toyota, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed an amendment last fall to allow manufacturers the option of equipping vehicles with ADB systems.