Adaptive Headlights 101 – Tech Tip Tuesday

adaptive Headlights

When considering safety features, headlights probably don’t come to mind. In reality, headlights are a vital safety feature. Whether it’s spotting a pedestrian that didn’t look both ways, or a deer that emerges from a grassy ditch, a good set of headlights can help reduce accidents. The IIHS now evaluates headlights alongside crash-testing to determine some vehicle’s safety ratings. If your car has adaptive headlights, you may even pay a lower insurance premium. In this edition of Tech Tip Tuesday, we’re taking a look at adaptive headlights. This incredible technology takes night-time driving safety to the next level.

What Are Adaptive Headlights?

Adaptive headlights, as expected, are adaptive. They shift and adjust automatically to provide ideal illumination for a variety of driving conditions. Various forms of adaptive headlights have been around for the last decade. These systems have evolved and gained popularity slowly since then. Today, adaptive headlights can have some or all of the following characteristics.

Curve Lighting

Some adaptive lighting systems follow the road as it curves. Using sensors to measure speed, steering angle, and degree of rotation, the headlights will turn left or right to light the curved road, rather than the space in front of the car. The IIHS provides a simple explanation in the video below.

High Beam Assist

Rather than manually switching your headlights from high beam (bright) to low beam (dim) as you approach other drivers, many adaptive headlight systems will automatically switch between the two settings. Some advanced systems eliminate only the portion of high beam lighting that could affect oncoming drivers, fully illuminating all other areas. You can see this in the video below. This feature doesn’t just protect one car, it provides maximum illumination to all cars without blinding any drivers.

Pedestrian/Animal Spotlight

A more recent addition to the list of adaptive headlight capabilities is a pedestrian/animal spotlight. These systems detect objects on the roadsides, like a pedestrian or a deer, and produce extra illumination in the object’s direction. This could dramatically decrease accidents, repair bills, and even deaths. See Ford’s take on this system in the video below.

Self-Leveling

Now a requirement on all new US cars with bi-xenon headlights, self-leveling systems determine if a vehicle is tilted forward or back. The lights then adjust up or down accordingly. For example, when a car crosses a bump, generally the headlights will flash up toward the sky, then down into ground. With this system, the lights will continually point down the road ahead.

Are Adaptive Headlights Worth The Cost?

While some luxury cars offer standard adaptive headlights, they are generally considered a non-standard feature. The cost of adaptive headlights will vary dramatically between makes. Is it worth it to pay hundreds, or even thousands more for this safety technology?

The IIHS has tested and proven that adaptive headlights help driver’s spot objects earlier. Certainly, increased reaction time will decrease night time motor accidents. The IIHS also found that vehicles with adaptive headlights paid up to 10% lower rates for property damage liability insurance. With this in mind, only 7% of police-reported crashes occur between 9 PM and 6 AM that involve more than 1 vehicle.

Here’s our take.

Upgrade to adaptive headlights if you can achieve significantly lower insurance costs. These headlights could pay for themselves. If you drive in areas with frequent car to animal crashes, these headlights are a great choice. Is safety a top priority? Is peace of mind on the road valuable to you? You’ll probably be glad you upgraded.

Don’t upgrade to adaptive headlights if you’re most concerned about vehicle to vehicle crashes, as they are very rare at night (less than 10% of all reported accidents). If you are simply trying to get the most car for your money, safety features like adaptive headlights can add thousands to the sticker price.

Adaptive Headlights

Vehicles with Adaptive Headlights

While luxury vehicles are more likely to have available or standard adaptive headlights, most major non-luxury makes now offer this technology in at least part of its vehicle lineup. In the 2014 model year, 14% of new vehicles had standard adaptive headlights, and it was optional on 22% of vehicles. The newer the car, the more likely it is to have some level of adaptive headlights as optional or standard.

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