Road Sign Refresher Quiz
'Tis the Season to be Shopping: Holiday Parkade Etiquette

Ahead of the Curve: Adaptive Headlights

Adaptive Headlights
Photo: iStock

This time of year, with the short short days and endless nights, a young lady's thoughts naturally turn to driving safely after dark.

Last October, we did a post called Bright Lights, Dark Road: All about Headlights about the history of the headlight. But this post is all about the future! Specifically adaptive headlights and their effect on road safety.

What are adaptive headlights and how to they work?

Adaptive headlights, as the name suggests, adapt to your car's movements. The lenses of the headlights are able to swivel from side to side and up and down.

Adaptive headlight systems are controlled by an electronic control unit (ECU) and generally include:

  • A sensor for steering input to monitor the angle of the steering wheel
  • Wheel speed sensors that monitor the rotation speed of each of your tires
  • A yaw sensor to monitor your car's side-to-side movement (i.e. turning a corner, going around a bend)
  • A level sensor to monitor whether your car is tilted forward or backwards (i.e. going up or down a hill)
  • Tiny motors that operate each headlight

The ECU monitors and analyses all of the input from these components to determine where and how to move the headlights to best illuminate the road. Check out this mesmerizing video of adaptive headlights swivelling about.

BMW F20 Adaptive Headlights (Xenon) from IronEagle on Vimeo.

What are the benefits of adaptive headlights?

When your car goes around a curve with standard fixed headlights, the fixed lights continue to shine straight ahead, so you're seeing the side of the road instead of the road that's ahead of you. Adaptive headlights react to your steering wheel, turning their beams onto your actual path, giving you better visibility. This is especially helpful on winding roads in low-light conditions. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, adaptive headlights help to reduce accidents by allowing drivers to see objects - like an animal standing on the road - earlier.

Similarly, when you're driving hilly terrain with fixed headlights, your lights may be pointing too far up or down, making it hard for you to see ahead, and making it hard for oncoming traffic to see you. Adaptive headlight systems generally include a self-levelling system to keep the headlights in an optimal position.

Adaptive headlights also benefit other drivers. When you go around a bend, your fixed headlights may temporarily blind oncoming drivers - with your adaptive headlights directed where you're turning, other drivers don't get a face full of your Halogens. Everyone wins!

Looking ahead

Adaptive headlights are becoming more popular but they're still not considered a common feature. They were first introduced in the 2004 model year; ten years later, as of the 2014 model year, they come optional on 22% of vehicles and standard on 14%.

The latest development in adaptive headlight technology are intelligent headlights, which automatically adjust the your high beams using a camera-driven system that responds to surrounding traffic and lighting conditions. The net result is that you can keep your high beams on but oncoming vehicles are shielded from your high beams by the intelligent headlight technology. These intelligent headlight systems are relatively new on the Canadian market but as car technology continues to advance, we'll likely be seeing these systems on more and more vehicles.

We do most of our driving in the well-lit city limits, so I don't really see the need for adaptive headlights in town. But I think adaptive headlights would definitely make me feel safer on those dark, winding mountain roads we sometimes drive on road trips.

Do you have adaptive headlights on your car? Do you feel that they make a difference? Share your experiences in the comments.

- Rose R.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The comments to this entry are closed.