Finally, US Headlights Will Suck Way Less

Finally, US Headlights Will Suck Way Less

U.S. vehicle lighting standards suck. That’s not my opinion; that’s the opinion of our own Jason Torchinsky, who’s been beating this drum since long before I was born and will continue to long after I’m gone. Because he will outlive me, as soon as he finds a way to immortalise himself as an amber rear turn indicator. I assume he’s close — it’s been his life’s work.

Anyway! I have good news for you Jason, and anyone else who cares about the sorry state of exterior lighting on cars sold in these 50 states: it’s about to get better. No, really. Because Section 24212 of H.R. 3684 — known to you and I as The Infrastructure Bill — passed on Monday, makes provisions for “adaptive driving beam headlamps.” Caught by The Drive, and visible in the plain text version of the document, it reads as follows:

SEC. 24212. HEADLAMPS.

(a) Definitions. — In this section:

(1) Adaptive driving beam headlamp. — The term “adaptive driving beam headlamp’’ means a headlamp (as defined in Standard 108) that meets the performance requirements specified in SAE International Standard J3069, published on June 30, 2016.

(2) Standard 108. — The term “Standard 108’’ means Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Number 108, contained in section 571.108 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations (as in effect on the date of enactment of this Act).

(b) Rulemaking. — Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall issue a final rule amending Standard 108 —

(1) to include performance-based standards for vehicle headlamp systems —

(A) to ensure that headlights are correctly aimed on the road; and

(B) requiring those systems to be tested on-vehicle to account for headlight height and lighting performance; and

(2) to allow for the use on vehicles of adaptive driving beam headlamp systems.

It’s that very last line — “allow for the use on vehicles of adaptive driving beam headlamp systems” — that’s particularly relevant. If you don’t know how this feature works, it essentially relies on cameras and sensors to shape the projected area of high beams so it doesn’t collide with oncoming traffic or highly reflective road signs. Cars in Europe, as well as those puttering about our neighbours to the north, have had this capability for years. Even as organisations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and AAA have released data illuminating (heh) how useless the Edison Bulbs affixed to our modern vehicles are.

If my contempt for the status quo of automotive lighting in this country is becoming increasingly obvious, that’s because I drive a 2017 Fiesta ST with infamously bad halogen bulbs from the factory. Now, to be fair to our lawmakers (that felt as gross to type as it must’ve been to read, I assure you) that’s less so because of antiquated rules about headlights in this country and more down to Ford being too cheap to ensure owners of the priciest Fiesta could see where they’re headed. Nevertheless, night visibility is something I take seriously and it’s nice to see the government begin to take it seriously, too.

As the stipulation in the bill says, within two years regulators will have to amend Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Number 108, which governs “lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment,” to permit the integration of adaptive beams. The language of the existing law is dense, but basically it’s written in such a way that suggests low beams and high beams must never be activated simultaneously unless very strict conditions apply. That’s why in most cars, one set of lights automatically switches off the moment the other turns on.

Of course, too much light would blind your fellow motorists. But a very bright beam of light that can steer itself around the eye level of other drivers solves that problem, while making the streets better lit for everyone. It won’t happen overnight — the rules have to be codified first as does a criteria to test such features, something the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t currently do. But at least it’s encouraging to know a safer night drive is twinkling out there in the horizon.