New Headlight Technologies May Help Prevent Car Accidents

Advances in headlight technology may help make cars safer and reduce the number of auto accidents worldwide.

The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is evaluating these technologies through its Transportation Lighting and Safety program, which examines approaches to driving safely at night.

There is a greater risk for car accidents at night than there is during the day. Many roadways in the United States do not have adequate lighting. As such, headlights are a crucial safety feature, and they can and should be improved. Any nighttime driver will be familiar with two headlight issues currently being addressed by researchers: the fact that it can be difficult to see where one is going when the car is turning or on a curve, and the blinding effect that glare from other drivers’ high beam headlights can have. These issues are common annoyances for drivers, but they are major safety concerns as well. Researchers are working to address both issues.

Senior Research Scientist John Bullough recently presented research results on swiveling headlight systems at the International Symposium on Automotive Lighting in Darmstadt, Germany. His paper, “Applying visual performance modeling to adaptive curve lighting safety data,” examined swiveling headlights designed to shine light onto the curves of a roadway when a car is turning. Field studies indicated that these headlight systems led to an estimated 4 percent reduction in nighttime crash frequency along sharp curves and a 1 to 2 percent reduction along shallower curves. The idea of headlights that turn along with a car has been around for decades, and it is already a feature in some European cars. As evidence of their potential to prevent car accidents grows, the feature will likely become available for more American cars.

Bullough also presented research results on adaptive headlights that reduce glare at the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology’s The Eye, The Brain and The Auto conference. His paper, “Adaptive vehicle lighting, visual performance and safety,” examined adaptive headlight systems that allow drivers to use high beams while selectively dimming a portion of the beam to avoid temporarily blinding other drivers with glare. Research suggests that these systems could reduce nighttime crashes by nearly 7 percent.

A model for relative visual performance developed by the Lighting Research Center at RPI formed the basis for both studies. The studies were funded by the Transportation Lighting Alliance, which includes major vehicle and lighting manufacturers.

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