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U.S. Slow to Approve Advanced LED Features for Vehicles

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Audi's Laser Taillight

Audi’s Laser Taillight projects a line on the ground to let the vehicle behind know what a safe stopping distance would be.

New technology is making it possible for carmakers to add more safety features to vehicles, such as LED headlights, but the U.S. hasn’t approved the innovations yet, which are permitted in Europe and elsewhere, news reports say.

In USA TODAY, Chris Woodyard reports that three Volvo models — the S60 sedan, V60 wagon, and XC60 crossover — will get a headlight system in Europe this spring that lets drivers use high beams without blinding other drivers. He quotes Volvo spokesman Jawanza Kelta as saying that the U.S. has not yet approved the “Active High-Beam Control.”

Audi has similar technologies ready to go, but is waiting for U.S. approval, Brad Stertz, an Audi spokesman, told Woodyard:

We’re in dialogue with NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] about how it works and the advantages it offers… It’s a case where the technology moves quickly and the regulation tends to move slowly.

Audi’s Matrix LED headlights (which Audi calls Matrix Beam) use dozens of individual lighting segments that are projected forward by lenses and reflectors, allowing light to appear to be swiveling. These lights can shift a focus point to one side or another, Nick Jaynes writes for Digital Trends. Jaynes notes that Matrix Beam is not yet legal in the U.S. “simply because the headlight regulations were written long before software and sophisticated sensors were considered important elements of automotive lighting,” according to an Audi spokesman.

Another feature Audi offers outside the U.S. is a laser diode that projects a line on the ground behind the car, to indicate a safe stopping distance for the vehicle behind it. Although Jaynes writes that such a feature could be “too unusual, jarring, or distracting,” Audi assured him that Audi is “not about to advance technologies that would make distractions or safety worse, and regulators won’t permit it if that’s the case.”

Laser taillights provide the additional benefit that in fog, the laser beam makes water droplets in the air visible, in which case the laser line is seen as a large warning triangle.

Woodyard writes that the U.S. has allowed two LED experiments, with NHTSA granting a 2008 to 2010 pilot test on two models of LED brake lights that flash in panic braking. He goes on to say:

NHTSA said in a statement that it’s ‘encouraged by the advancements’ in lighting, is considering lighting rules changes and is working with SAE International, the auto industry’s engineers group, to study the new technologies. ‘The advancements in lighting technology, electronics, and the use of cameras and sensor information are allowing manufacturers and suppliers to develop innovative projects that were just not possible with sealed beam and bulb technology,’ said NHTSA.

In other examples of LED light innovations that are not yet allowed in the U.S., Woodyard reports that Toyota dropped its “adaptive high beam” system for the 2013 Lexus LS 460 sedan when NHTSA approval did not come through; BMW offers a Dynamic Light Spot system in Europe, that uses dedicated lights and the car’s night vision technology to illuminate pedestrians; and Mercedes’ 2014 E Class sedans will have enhanced headlight-dimming technology in Europe.

Here is a video showing some of Audi’s OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology:


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