Why are Adaptive Headlights Illegal in the USA?



There’s no question that there are laws still on the books in the United States that need to go the way of cassette players in consoles.

For example: in Florida, flatulence after 6 p.m. can, technically, land you in the slammer. Cars in California cannot go above 60 mph when they don’t have an operator, though the new automated Google vehicles might find themselves ticketed under that ordinance. On Main Street in Bernard’s Township, NJ, smiles are legally mandatory at all times; the town was declared a “frown free” zone. And, in Kansas, if you want to walk across a street at night, you better be sure your tail has some tail lights on it.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has some laws on the books as well that is causing a hitch in the plans of Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volvo. A 1968 regulation is prohibiting new headlights that no longer require an intermediary means for switching from high to low beams. First introduced by Mercedes Benz in 2008, the adaptive headlights sense when other cars are on the road and automatically adjust their brightness. They can also adjust based on ambient light, meaning there’s no need to switch to high beams once you leave town and hit those dark country roads.

Since the release by Mercedes-Benz, Toyota has created similar systems, Audi has developed its Matrix Beam LED and Volvo created the Active High Beam Control. All are unable to make them available on cars sold in the US because of the outdated policy.

In May, Toyota announced that it had submitted a petition to the NHTSA requesting that the adaptive headlights be allowed, citing studies from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) that found cars using the adaptive headlights sustain less damage in accidents on average, though the number of accidents occurring is no different.

Audi’s version of LED adaptive headlights will be available for an extra $3000 on the A8 sedan when it debuts across Europe in 2014, but until there are some changes made to the rule books, those shopping in the United States will not be able to opt for the new technology.

  • Andrew

    Great article Caitlin! The reason adaptive headlights are illegal is because manufacturers built adaptive systems in the 50’s and 60’s that were too slow to switch between high to low, and so they blinded oncoming drivers.



  • Brian

    Some of the key information here is in fact incorrect. BMW has been offering automatic high-beam control on their cars (optional on xenon-equipped cars, standard on LED-equipped cars) in the US for well over a year now, and Audi currently has adaptive LED headlights in their A8, it’s not waiting for 2014.

  • Martin

    In fact Audi have had adaptive headlights since 2003. In Europe, that is. 😉

  • Matthew Bernard

    This was dumb and uninformative as they have been on BMW since 2008. Please don’t write garbage and post it on the internet.

  • Genie

    Thanks for this article. There are many laws that are as stupid as the politicians that pushed them into laws. There has got to be a way of getting rid of “joke” laws without costing taxpayers more money since we already paid to put them on the books.