American vehicle lighting regulations are a topic much discussed in our community. Most of the world hews in one way or another to the UN regulations and does not formally recognise the American regulations, and with the rise of the auto markets in China, India, and South America the North American regulatory island progressively grows relatively smaller and more isolated. For its part, the US shows no intent to swerve from its unique-regulations doctrine, so for the time being the world’s auto industry—at least that part of it wishing to sell cars in America—shall have to cope, one way or another, with the existence of American regulatory differences.
And so will American drivers. Until recently, that meant little more than differently-shaped headlight beams and perhaps a different headlamp construction, presence vs. absence of side marker lights and reflectors, perhaps a different colour of front position lamp. But as vehicle lighting technology’s evolution continues to speed up, the disparity between what’s available in Europe, Asia, and what’s not available in America is growing from a fissure to a canyon. Truly adaptive headlighting systems with glare-free high beam, spot marking light to show pedestrians to drivers, and other advanced lighting systems cannot be had in the US or Canada because Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 doesn’t permit them, and that standard as well as the American regulatory process in its present form don’t readily lend themselves to rapid accommodation of evolving lighting technology.
It would be unfair and inaccurate to say NHTSA doesn’t care or isn’t aware of the problem; the agency must work within the constraints legally imposed on its operation by the Congressional act that defines its scope and activities. Many talented, knowledgeable, and passionate engineers at NHTSA are keenly aware of the matters at hand. We recently reported , NHTSA may be exploring new ways of thinking about regulatory intent; that may provide a window for some sunlight—or perhaps some glare-free adaptive headlamp light—to shine through. This week we report in depth on an interesting NHTSA proposal for sweeping changes to the front, side, and rear lighting requirements in Standard 108. The proposal contains some provisions to make the expert say “Finally, at last!”, and some provisions that might raise some big questions; give it a look and some thought.
Above all, the proposal as analysed by DVN underscores the need for us all to paddle the boat in the same direction and speak with unified voice to NHTSA and our colleagues in the vehicle lighting community—that way we stand the best chance of getting the optimal regulation in the shortest possible time.
Daniel Stern, DVN General Editor