Nighttime crashes have the highest death rate for both drivers and pedestrians, but headlights currently in use in the United States often do not provide adequate lighting to illuminate roads. Headlight technology already in vehicles in Europe and Canada, however, has the potential to improve visibility and safety if widely employed in this country.
Those are the main findings of new research by the AAA released on Tuesday that examined the limitations of some headlights and showed the importance of allowing adaptive driving beam headlights (ADB) on U.S. roads, currently not possible by federal standards.
“Driving at night doesn’t have to be such a risky undertaking for Americans,” John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair, said in a statement. “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.”
The AAA research found that European vehicles equipped with the advanced headlight technology, a system that continuously adjusts high beams to adapt their beam patterns to improve illumination without causing glare, increase roadway lighting by as much as 86% when compared to U.S.
With ADB systems, the high beams are always on and when another vehicle is detected, that area is shaded to prevent glare that would interfere with the other driver’s field of vision, according to the study, which evaluated and compared the performance of U.S. and European headlights.
Previous AAA research found that two-thirds of Americans (64%) said they do not regularly use their high beams at night, so when driving at moderate speeds like 40 mph with low beams on, motorists will not have enough time to appropriately react to something or someone. High beam headlights, the group said, provide an average of 28% more forward illumination than low beams, and are more effective at providing the proper amount of light when traveling at higher speeds.
The report also indicated that some newer U.S. vehicles are equipped with a similar technology that automatically switches between high and low beams, which helps to increase visibility, but only when other vehicles aren’t present. Once an oncoming or preceding vehicle is detected, the car will switch from high to low beams, which results in losing the benefit of the additional light.
The AAA said it supports federal changes to the law, noting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed an amendment last fall to allow manufacturers the option of equipping vehicles with ADB systems. But until standards change, the group recommends that drivers take the following precautions when driving after dark on unlit roads:
· Use high beams whenever possible, as there is a difference between seeing the roadway markings, signs, and other vehicles, versus being able to perceive a non‐reflective object in the driver’s path.
· Monitor and adjust driving speeds to allow enough time to detect, react and stop the vehicle in order to avoid striking a person, animal or object.
· If your car’s headlamp lenses are not crystal clear, have them restored or replaced to improve light output.
Inexpensive replacement and restoration services are available at most repair shops, but only one-in-five Americans reported performing a headlight restoration service, the AAA said. Previous research by the group found that deteriorated headlamps produce only 22 % of the light output (low beam) that new, original headlights provide. Original equipment manufacturer headlight replacement parts restore headlights to like new condition;.professional and DIY restorations returned light output by up to 70 %.
Click here and here to learn more about the recent study and here and here for earlier research about nighttime visibility issues, including headlight lens deterioration, and restoration options and costs.