How adaptive headlights work – are they effective?

How to reduce the risks associated with driving at night or in all other low-light situations? This is undoubtedly the question posed by the designers of adaptive lights. So, rather than lighting the road, these new models of vehicle lights follow the trajectory of the automobile thanks to a set of sensors. According to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the United States, efficiency seems to be there. There are many advantages in road safety and they reduce the risk of collision in many contexts.

Adaptive lights are active safety devices that are installed at the headlights of automobiles. Their mission is to improve driving comfort when the light is too low or even insufficient. Like standard lights, their action will allow the driver to continue driving at night without increasing the risk of collision. Indeed, the installation of several electronic components in the vehicle concerned makes it possible to capture different parameters in order to transmit them to a control unit. This adjusts the lighting angle along the route in order to best adapt it to traffic conditions.

How Adaptive Headlights Work

Regardless of the brand that designs the vehicle, adaptive lights are made up of several components linked together by an electronic control unit. This lighting system includes in particular:

  • sensors whose mission is to detect the speed of rotation of each wheel
  • a yaw speed sensor controlling the lateral movements of the vehicle
  • a steering angle sensor controlling the angle of the steering wheel
  • mini motors fitted to the two lights
Adaptive vs Standard Headlights comparison – (©Antoine Levesque)

Thus, thanks to the data which are recorded by the three sensors, the control unit determines the specific degree which the headlights must adopt and then transfers the information to the motors fitted to the lights. The settings are fully automated, and therefore do not require any action on the part of the driver. All along the same route, these same data are checked and updated in order to best adjust the angle of light, hence the use of the term “adaptive”.

Are adaptive lights really effective?

Although the devices that allow the operation of adaptive lights are very recent, their effectiveness has already been tested. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), these lighting devices effectively reduce the risk of a night collision. This risk reduction concerns both rear impacts as well as lateral impacts when two vehicles meet. In addition, several studies seem to confirm the effectiveness of adaptive lights when negotiating a turn. These would make it easier to avoid collisions in the event of involuntary deportation of one of the vehicles on the other lane. The majority of secondary roads which allow traffic circulation outside built-up areas do not have lane dividers.

Adaptive lights: advantages and limits

In addition to improving the visibility of the driver of a vehicle, the adaptive lights also secure the journeys of other users who will come across the vehicle equipped with these innovative lights. Indeed, in low light conditions, motorists traveling in the opposite direction are generally hampered for a few seconds by standard lights. This phenomenon does not occur with adaptive lights since their beams follow the path of the vehicle, and not the route. Even if it is a recent model with bi-xenon headlights, the light intensity is no longer a problem. However, there are indeed limitations related to driver behavior. If the type of driving adopted is not very respectful of road regulations, particularly in terms of speed, the driver does not benefit from all the advantages delivered by adaptive lights.

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