Toyota Shines Its Highbeams on Pedestrian Safety

In the wake of a recall of its popular off-roader, the rugged FJ Cruiser, for headlight issues (though only those outfitted with the auxiliary lighting kit that’s mounted to the front bumper), Toyota (NYSE:TM) is pushing back against headlight regulations. As it tries to gain approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a new headlight system, the company is petitioning for an update to headlight regulation to allow its new design to be used on U.S. roads.

The system effectively does away with the low-beam setting that are a crucial function on current headlight designs. Instead, the car’s high beams are on all the time (at least during the evening and nighttime hours), and as another car approaches, a camera built into the headlight housing triggers a mechanical shade that lowers to keep the bright light from the oncoming drivers’ eyes.

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Toyota is not the only manufacturer to see the benefit of the new system, as other large manufacturers have been arguing that the system will help improve road safety for years. However, legislation that was updated in 1999 is holding the manufacturers back from implementing any changes.

While seen as being convenient as it eliminates the need to continuously flick from high to low and back to high again, Toyota maintains that the shade system will help reduce the number of people who die each year in the U.S. due to dark road conditions. Automotive News has that figure pegged at 2,334, and Toyota estimates, based on NHTSA data, that the new system will save about nine of those people each year. While the number seems somewhat fractional of the total, it is certainly a positive step and does not require a vast overhaul of the car.

Rather than dimming the lights, which reduce the field of vision in every direction, the shade provides a guard where needed (so as not to blind oncoming traffic) but maintains the bright light to the side of the car, keeping the expanded field of vision intact, and better alerting the driver to obstructions or risks on the peripherals. Toyota has already installed the system on 16,600 vehicles on the roads in Europe and Japan, but until the dated regulations in America have prevented the new headlight from reaching dealerships.

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The NHSTA has said it will be starting a project later this year, to assess the regulations and explore Toyota’s petition. ”The agency continues to look at ways in which the federal lighting standard can provide even better illumination for drivers,” NHTSA’s statement said.

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