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NHTSA proposes to legalize 'matrix' adaptive LED headlights in the US

This is great news from a safety standpoint alone.

2019 Audi Q8 SUV
Chris Paukert/Roadshow

There's a special subset of LED headlights out there that are capable of dimming only portions of the beam, more brightly illuminating the road without dazzling oncoming drivers. That tech isn't legal in the US, but that could change in the near future.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday issued a notice of proposed rule-making, Bloomberg reports, seeking to adjust the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to permit the use of "adaptive driving beam headlighting systems," otherwise known as "matrix" headlights. 

It's a clever system. Basically, the headlights act as if the bright lights are on at all times, providing superior illumination to the roadway and the area around it. When a pedestrian or an oncoming car is detected, the headlights lower the brightness in the object's direction. That way, the road is still perfectly lit up, while pedestrians and oncoming cars aren't dazzled. The tech has been available in Europe for some time.

Here's lookin' at you, kid. And here's hoping NHTSA's petition gets approved.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

While you might usually associate this tech with European automakers, it was actually Toyota that petitioned NHTSA for this rule adjustment, all the way back in 2016. In its notice of proposed rule-making, NHTSA promises that it will "establish appropriate performance requirements to ensure the safe introduction of adaptive driving beam headlighting systems if equipped on newly manufactured vehicles," presumably to make sure these systems don't end up making things worse for oncoming cars.

Some vehicles arrive from Europe with the "matrix" part of their headlights just disabled, as opposed to removed and replaced with a fully legal setup. Case in point, the forthcoming 2019 Audi Q8 SUV. US-spec Q8s optioned in the right way will be able to take advantage of this technology with nothing more than a software update, and hopefully that's all it will take once NHTSA's petition is approved.

Before the petition is heard and either granted or denied, the notice is available for public comments. You can head to regulations.gov and file a digital comment, but you can also submit comments by mail, fax or in person. Here's hoping it gets approved, because the US could stand to update its vehicle regulations in the face of new, promising technology.

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