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Federal Regulators Give Thumbs Up for Adaptive Beam Headlights

Nearly a decade after Toyota Motor asked for approval, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said automakers can begin using adaptive beam headlights on new vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz Concept GLC Coupé
NHTSA approved the use of adaptive beam headlights for vehicles. Mercedes has been using the lights, in non-active mode, for several years.

The rule amends Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, which governs lights, reflectors and “associated equipment.” The final ruling came after years of prodding from automakers and safety advocates, especially since they’ve been used in Europe and Japan for years.

The agency had to implement the rule as part of requirement in the massive infrastructure bill the Biden administration pushed to get passed. The new rule is being implemented more than a year earlier than the mandate required.

“NHTSA prioritizes the safety of everyone on our nation’s roads, whether they are inside or outside a vehicle. New technologies can help advance that mission,” said Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s deputy administrator, in a statement. “NHTSA is issuing this final rule to help improve safety and protect vulnerable road users.”

Why are they helpful?

Adaptive driving beam headlight systems, or ADB, use automatic headlight beam switching technology to shine less light on occupied areas of the road and more light on unoccupied areas, NHTSA noted. The adaptive beam is particularly useful for distance illumination of pedestrians, animals, and objects without reducing the visibility of drivers in other vehicles.

Hella ADB Rendering
This schematic shows how Adaptive Driving Beams, or ADB, can selectively reshape their lighting to prevent glare for other motorists.

Safety organizations have been pushing the importance of improving headlights, not just the brightness but also their overall capability. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety began testing the effectiveness of headlights in 2016. The organization supports the new headlight rule.

“The Institute welcomes rulemaking that would allow more advanced headlights,” says Matthew Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at IIHS, said in 2018. “Adaptive-driving-beam headlights in general provide better illumination of dark roads than traditional headlights and shield oncoming drivers from bothersome glare.”

In recent years, the rising number of crashes at night time has been a major theme of safety advocates supporting the approval of the use of adaptive beam lights. 

“It’s a pretty big deal, as it marks the first important step in allowing for advanced lighting that could prove incredibly effective at reducing crashes,” Michael Brooks, chief operating officer and acting executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, told the Detroit Free Press. 

IIHS-HLDI board inspects adaptive headlights
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety threw its support behind the lights in 2018.

“About half of accidents occur at night, and only about a quarter of our miles are driven at night, so we are looking at a lot night crashes in the U.S., a portion of which would certainly be prevented or mitigated through better visibility.”

Automakers ahead of the curve

While awaiting a ruling on using the lights, several automakers installed the lights on vehicles, but deactivated them in the U.S. with plans to use over-the-air updates to switch them on after they were approved.

General Motors already offers the technology on its Cadillac XT6 luxury crossover. In addition, most Audi vehicles already have them installed. Mercedes, Porsche, Volkswagen, Ford, Lincoln, Subaru Hyundai, Genesis, Honda and, of course, Toyota all have vehicles equipped with the lights just waiting to be “activated.”

No word on if, when or how all of these automakers will make the conversion. has reached out to several automakers, but none responded by the time this story was published.

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