Dynamic / adaptive headlights: do they help me see where I am going and not what I'm missing?
December 23, 2012 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Car-filter: how useful are dynamic / adaptive headlights (the ones that swivel when you turn)? Why do they appear to be going out of fashion?

A few years ago, I saw an car ad (I think it was from Acura) touting their "active" crash technologies, ie: the ones that help you prevent a crash. One of the features was adaptive front headlights that swivel when you turn so you can see where you are going instead of turning into the darkness. I've driven my share of unknown, dark winding roads and thought, "That sounds great, looking forward to it trickling down to mainstream cars like other safety systems."

Fast forward to the present: there isn't a single car in Acura's lineup that has this feature, even in their loaded-to-the-max models. Nor Acura's luxury Japanese competitors, much less their mainstream counterparts. Yet Mercedes and BMW have them as an optional feature all the way down to their mainstays.

So are dynamic / adaptive headlights a great, useful feature that some car manufacturers don't seem to get?
posted by meowzilla to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
I think their usefulness is pretty limited. It's not like they help you see around right-angle corners. Rather, the effect is more like having a somewhat wider beam ahead of your car. From what I've heard, the things are maintenance nightmares and very expensive to repair or replace if need be.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:00 AM on December 23, 2012

Car manufacturers generally view headlights and tail lights as a feature to be cycled on top of existing major revisions as a cheap way of giving cars a minor visual refresh every few years. Take the Toyota Highlander for instance; it progressed over two minor refreshes and one major revision:

Standard incandescent head lamps and tail lamps -> Projector incandescent low beams and LED tail lamps -> Standard incandescent head lamps and tail lamps.

Manufacturers mostly care about an appearance of technical advancement and tweak just enough components to maintain the illusion until they can roll out a major revision, and then they're back to square one and hold back a few features to be added on in the next minor refresh (and deleted again until a particular technology becomes industry standard).

Adaptive headlamps are probably useful, but not nearly as important as self-leveling projectors for HID lamps (to avoid blinding oncoming traffic), which manufacturers have toyed with but not implemented well.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:07 AM on December 23, 2012

Mazda offers them as an option on some models.
posted by Gungho at 10:15 AM on December 23, 2012

From "Crash avoidance features reduce crashes, insurance claim study shows; autonomous braking and adaptive headlights yield biggest benefits" (July 3, 2012):

HLDI looked at adaptive headlights offered by Acura, Mazda, Mercedes and Volvo. As with forward collision warning, bigger benefits showed up in PDL claims for damage to other vehicles than in collision claims for damage to the insured vehicles. PDL claims fell as much as 10 percent with adaptive headlights. That was surprising, since only about 7 percent of police-reported crashes occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and involve more than one vehicle.


"All four adaptive headlight systems we looked at show benefits for most insurance coverages, and many of these estimated reductions are statistically significant," Moore says. "These lights appear to help in more situations than we anticipated, though we don't yet know why."
posted by pmurray63 at 1:32 PM on December 23, 2012

Response by poster: Manufacturer criticism aside, does anyone have first-person experience with the headlights?
posted by meowzilla at 3:34 PM on December 24, 2012

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