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Adaptive Headlights Finally Approved by Feds for US Roads

A brighter future for drivers, and a less-blinding one for oncoming traffic.

If you’re like me, and you drive anything lower than a semi-truck, you’ve likely noticed how modern headlights can be a bit… dazzling. The technology to mitigate this in the form of intelligent adaptive headlights does exist, but those systems were outlawed from American shores thanks to extremely outdated National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations that trail Europe’s driver safety guidelines by well over a decade. However, after a federal, deadlined mandate to change the rules in the form of the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, adaptive headlights are allowed at long last on American shores, according to Automotive News.

For new car buyers, this means flicking between separate high and low beams could become a thing of the past. This Ford video from its UK division—where the technology has been legal since 2006 and is currently in use on British streets—is an excellent visual demonstration of how adaptive headlights work, but in short: the system uses an array of LEDs rather than separate high and low beam bulbs. A frontal camera monitors for other cars and adaptively dims only the area it detects traffic in while maintaining full high-beam brightness everywhere else. This allows the driver to keep high-beam brightness always on without blinding other drivers.

And consumers may notice a difference even before a single new car is sold stateside. Audi has been selling cars in America with adaptive headlights for years, with the previously forbidden technology locked behind a software wall to keep its cars federally legal. With the systems now allowed, a software patch can be applied to use this already integrated feature without a single bolt touched or retrofit required. 


While the change was an inevitability, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15th of last year, mandated a two-year timeframe to finalize the new rule, so the new mandate is here sooner than it was required. 

That’s not to say it’s been an easy path to legalization, however. Toyota initially requested that NHTSA change the headlight regulations as early as 2013 and NHTSA formally proposed allowing adaptive high beams in 2018, but no formal federal pressure was applied until the infrastructure bill became law. Now, almost a decade after the initial proposal (and 16 years after Europeans were allowed to have them), American drivers will finally be able to enjoy LED headlights that don’t blind oncoming drivers. The highways of America might just have a less-bright future, and my eyes are thankful for it.

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