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Audi's Smart LED Headlights Banned In The U.S., Okay Everywhere Else

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During the 2012 Super Bowl broadcast, Audi debuted a commercial that put its massively bright LED headlamps in the spotlight. The clip's vampire theme was dull, but it got the point across: Audi has improved the common headlight.

But Audi hasn't just made those lights brighter, it's also made them smarter, and customers everywhere could soon reap the benefits -- well, everywhere but in the U.S., where Audi's innovation runs counter to U.S. law.


A couple of weeks ago, we told you about Volvo's "permanent" high-beam headlights. Using sensors and cameras, Volvo found a way to leave headlights on their brightest setting while shielding other motorists from the glare. After a Volvo vehicle has passed those motorists, the headlight shields retract to illuminate the full expanse of road.

Audi debuted very similar technology back in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. It's called "matrix-beam LED lighting", and as you can see from the video embedded above, it involves clusters of LED lamps that turn off and on in response to other vehicles. 


That sounds great -- like something that could improve roadway safety and make life even simpler for drivers, right? Except for one small problem: it's illegal here in the U.S.

In 1968 -- two years before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was founded -- the U.S. instituted a regulation that required all vehicle headlights to be capable of switching from high-beam to low-beam. That rule is still on the books.

But the systems from Audi and Volvo don't involve a switch, per se. They're smarter than that, adapting to conditions without requiring input from drivers. That's something that regulators clearly didn't envision in the late 1960s.

NHTSA says that it's open to new technologies, but the agency isn't sold on this one. Most importantly, NHTSA isn't fully convinced that LEDs make roads any safer. In fact, some tests have shown that cars with LED brake lights get rear-ended more often than those with incandescent lights.

Audi and other auto industry reps will soon meet with NHTSA officials to see if they can update U.S. regulations or find a workaround.

In the meantime, shoppers in Europe will be able to enjoy Audi's matrix-beam LED lighting on the A8 sedan next year (for an additional $3,000). We'll let you know when -- and if -- that option becomes available on this side of the Pond.

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Comments (11)
  1. What a waste of $3000.

  2. The NHTSA is way behind the times. They need to get with it and update their rules. Typical American government laziness. What about the Volvo's system of high beams on all the time ? Are those illegal in the U.S. also ?

  3. Another reason cars need to be able to switch to low-beam is as a courtesy for those of us who jog in the dark (or ride bicycles). Please dim your lights when you see reflective clothing bouncing your way (BTW, deer and other animals don’t wear reflective clothing). High beams are dimmed to keep from annoying people . . . not their cars. Sheesh. 

    Sorry . . . one of my many pet-peeves.

  4. Just a theory...

    Regarding the the following comment: "Some tests have shown that cars with LED brake lights get rear-ended more often than those with incandescent lights."
    A further investigation may show that cars with LED breaklights are typically high-end models WITH BETTER BREAKING SYSTEMS that allow the vehicle to stop in shorter distances. Would any of you agree with this observation?

  5. Usually - owners have modded tail lights to inferior LED's.
    Until NTSB shows actual test results - totally flawed report by really old farts.
    Fact-I was maybe 7yrs old - Dad was giving me ride in brand new 63 Caddy convert - right off I noticed device on the dash - dimming headlights as others approached - I thought, this is really Cool.

  6. That would be great here in Detroit. Some very rude drivers tend to drive with their high beams on all the time. I flash mine or just put mine on high until they dim theirs. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. If they don't, too bad. Then there's the lazy ones who run on highs because one of their headlights is burned out. Go to the store and get a bulb. Lastly, you get the real idiots putting in HID lights in reflector based headlights blinding everyone. Ok, i'm done ranting.

  7. Anyone who has driven a car with e-code headlights knows how superior they are to the DOT-blessed garbage we're forced to live with in the US. US regulators really need to get with the times.

  8. Why don't they outlaw those blinding blue headlights on some cars?They are very dangerous to oncoming traffic.

  9. Those are HID bulbs.
    They are illegal, the problem is zero enforcement.
    Cops are to busy enforcing seat belt taxes instead of the things that matter.

  10. Hey but look on the bright side...14 year old kids in this country can walk around with high velocity rifles and AR-15's in case they need it....

  11. Anything to blind people. When will it ever end??????????

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