It’s a staggering statistic: while only one-fourth of all driving is done at night, more than half of driver fatalities occur after dark. On top of that, says the American Automobile Association (AAA), more than three-quarters of pedestrian deaths happen at night.
Nissan says it is boosting headlight performance on its vehicles while simultaneously reducing glare for oncoming traffic. That’s certainly important all year, but especially during the darkest part of the winter months when rush hour typically happens after sunset. Once a luxury upgrade, Nissan now offers brighter, more efficient LED headlights standard on the Altima, Ariya, Armada, GT-R, Maxima, Murano, Pathfinder, Rogue and Z models.
This is how Nissan’s headlight engineering works.
Headlight technology continues to improve
To understand the current state of automotive headlights, look at both the evolution of headlight technology as well as regulations for the U.S. and abroad.
Halogen headlamps used to be the standard, giving way to LED (light emitting diode) lights starting in the mid-2000s. Audi was the first to debut all-LED headlights, on the 2009 Audi R8, and others followed closely behind.
The differences between halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID, or xenon) and LED are significant. Halogen lamps are much cheaper to make, and they emit a warm, yellow light. LEDs emit a cool, bluish-white light, plus they’re about 80 percent more energy efficient and last much longer. Nissan says this creates an unintended consequence as LED lights illuminate the road more clearly and further ahead, but they increase glare for drivers in the oncoming lane.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) started rating headlights in 2016. Out of more than 80 headlight systems available for the 31 models of 2016 midsize cars evaluated, only one system (the Toyota Prius v) received a top rating of “good.” For model year 2023, forty-three percent of headlight systems tested earned a top rating.
On a straight road, low-beam headlights qualify for a good rating when they illuminate the right side of the road at least 325 feet. At the other end of the scale, the Institute gives a poor rating (the lowest available) to those lighting 220 feet or less.
While LEDs are objectively brighter than halogen and HID varieties, the IIHS rates headlights using a set of performance metrics that are agnostic to the underlying technology, IIHS says. There are also examples of poor ratings for every type of headlight.
Nissan’s “anti-glare notch”
Drivers employ low beams much more often than they do eye-scorching high beams. However, even low beams can cause a problematic glare for vehicles that are lower to the ground when a taller vehicle’s headlights are shining straight on.
Nissan’s newest focus is on creating a low-beam headlight that carves out an “anti-glare notch.” The brightest section of the beam aims toward the lane of travel, illuminating the way forward while the oncoming traffic sees a dimmer edge. Engineers create physical barriers within the headlight housing to direct the light in specific directions, and using LED instead of halogen lights offers better, crisper definition.
Instead of a full “V” shape straight ahead typically cast by headlights, the silhouette of Nissan’s anti-glare headlight beam looks more like an amoeba. The resulting light makes it easier to see straight ahead and onto the shoulder of the road while still providing enough light to see into the oncoming traffic without blinding other drivers.
“We use computer-aided ray tracing to focus light with pinpoint precision, eliminating the need for bulky reflectors and projectors,” Brad Chisholm, an engineer on the exterior Lights, Mirrors and Wipers team at Nissan told PopSci. “The result is headlights that are thinner, sleeker, and more aerodynamic, all while bathing the road in bright, targeted illumination.”
Nissan says it’s excited about the future of adaptive beam headlights, which have been used in Europe for the last decade and were only recently approved for use in the U.S. This technology goes beyond automatic high-beam dimming by using cameras, sensors, and central processing units to adjust headlight brightness and beam shape. The brand says that moving to adaptive beam headlights will increase the benefits of the anti-glare notch by fine-tuning it in real time.
Ultimately, properly aligned headlights that intelligently illuminate the road will reduce the number of crashes and can save lives. Nissan’s work toward reducing the glare for oncoming traffic improves our odds even more.