The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced the approval of adaptive driving beams on vehicles sold in the United States market.

This announcement follows a recent NHTSA report which showed a 12 percent increase in traffic fatalities during the first nine months of 2021-- the highest number of fatalities during the first nine months of a year since 2006 and the highest year-to-year increase in the NHTSA’s reporting history.

Research conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) demonstrated the inadequacy of headlights used on most US vehicles; it is said that 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities happen in the dark. With these findings and other statistics, federal lawmakers have now updated the US headlight standards for the first time in decades, allowing for widespread adoption of adaptive headlights.

“Driving at night carries the highest fatality rate for both drivers and pedestrians,” said Ragina Ali, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Given the sharp increase in fatalities on U.S. roadways – especially pedestrian fatalities – the updated headlight standards will literally be a lifesaving improvement.”

What are adaptive headlights?

Adaptive driving beam (ADB) headlights, often found on European vehicles, are able to pivot the bulbs in tandem with steering wheel inputs, thus allowing for a greater and more accurate volume of light to shine along curved roads. The idea is that ADB headlights will illuminate dark, curvy roads more for the driver as well as better alert pedestrians of the oncoming traffic. These headlights are also able to switch in order to avoid blinding oncoming vehicles.

Previous AAA research showed that halogen headlights found on  most US vehicles failed to safely light unlit roadways at speeds over 40 mph, not allotting drivers the necessary time to visualize, react and brake to avoid pedestrians or obstacles.

In contrast, a study of ADB headlights on European vehicles determined that they increased roadway lighting by as much as 86 percent when compared to US low beam headlights.

AAA European v US Headlight Research - broll from AAA Public Affairs on Vimeo.

Thanks to these findings, AAA was able to convince lawmakers to update the federal government’s headlight standards, allowing for adaptive headlights to be installed on new vehicles.