New cars have cameras, computers and warning signals to make driving safer. However, all cars have outdated 20th century technology for headlights. On May 26, 2017, an article in USA-Today The Journal News by Nathan Bomey entitled “Vehicle headlights are stuck in tech’s dark ages”. According to the article, 250 pedestrians are killed at night every year crossing the road and many cases it is because drivers can’t see them because their headlights don’t shine bright enough. These findings are backed by headlight expert Michael Flanagan at The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded last year that two-thirds of lighting packages available on 21 small SUV models including Jeep Wrangler, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and the Nissan Rogue deliver poor performance. Ten midsized car headlights systems were poor including Buick Verano, Hyundai Sonata and the Mercedes Benz C Class. The headlights of seven pickup trucks were rated poor including the Ford F-150, the GMC Canyon and the Toyota Tundra.
The cause of these poor headlights is outdated federal rules that have blocked automakers from introducing head lamps that automatically adjust to oncoming traffic to reduce glare even though the technology is available in Europe and Japan. According to AAA “there’s technology available today that could potentially reduce some fatalities and it would be simply a matter of regulation change to allow that in the U.S.”
Toyota asked the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) in 2013 to allow adaptive beam headlight technology. The alliance of automobile manufacturers which represent major automakers backed the petition for adaptive headlights. Yet, four years later, NHTSA did not make a decision. The Department of Transportation and the “NHTSA” welcome data and research that can serve to encourage manufacturers of vehicles to improve headlight performance beyond minimum Federal Safety Standards. Once the NHTSA processes new regulations, it could take one to two years to implement standards. It may take years for advanced lighting to become standard in all automobiles.
According to the article, the number of pedestrians killed on U.S. roads in 2015 rose 9.5% to 5376. Still, low beam headlights on 80% of vehicles on the road do not provide adequate stopping distance at speeds above 40 mph on unlit roadways, according to AAA. The packaging of headlights has been getting smaller and smaller and more distinctive. Significant changes for headlights are still many years off.