Understanding ADAS: Adaptive Headlights & How They Work

adaptive headlights

Driving in the dark is dangerous. Half of all accidents happen at night, dusk, or dawn, despite there being less traffic on the roads. Adaptive headlights are one driver assistance system that can make a difference. In this article, we will explain what adaptive headlights are, how they work, and show examples of adaptive headlights currently available in the U.S.

What are adaptive headlights?

Adaptive headlights is an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) that changes headlight position based on steering wheel movement and sometimes vehicle speed. Headlights pivot from side to side to improve visibility on dark, curved roads. Adaptive headlights can be incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, or newer LED or high-intensity discharge (HID) lights.

There are benefits to headlights that turn when the car turns. The biggest one is that they help drivers see hard-to-see objects in the dark, on curved roads about one-third of a second faster than standard headlights. This small increase has meaningful results. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) found that across seven OEMs, the presence of curve-adaptive headlights reduced the frequency of property damage liability claims by 5.8 percent and reduced collision claims by 1.1 percent.

How do adaptive headlights work?

The term ‘adaptive headlights’ refers to headlights that adapt to changing conditions. This can refer to several different things:

  • Adapting to lighting conditions
  • Adapting to road conditions
  • Adapting to vehicle position

While the term adaptive headlights can include many systems and capabilities, the most common thing it means in the United States is curve-adaptive headlights. These are headlights that turn with steering wheel movement, among other things.

Adaptive headlights systems are composed of several components:

  • Articulating headlights
  • Steering wheel sensors
  • Speed and position sensors

To pivot in the direction of travel, adaptive headlights adjust according to steering wheel movement. They move as much as 15 degrees to the side to illuminate around corners and curves. This gives them just a 30-degree range of motion to pivot from left to right.

Adaptive Headlight Naming

One of the big problems in the ADAS community is that similar systems have different names. Adaptive headlights are known by many names in the U.S. auto market. Here are a few different names used by automakers to describe these headlight systems:

  • Adaptive front lighting system
  • Cornering headlights
  • Rotating headlights
  • Directional headlights
  • Articulating headlights
  • Adaptive led headlights
  • Curve adaptive headlights

In addition, there are several different headlight systems often bundled with, or referred to as, adaptive headlights. To clear up the confusion, here are a few related terms that you should understand.

Automatic High Beams

Headlight systems that automatically switch between high and low beams, based on conditions, using light sensors or forward ADAS cameras to detect light levels.

Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB Headlights)

Adaptive driving beam (ADB) headlights change the shape, brightness, and direction of the light from your headlights to shield oncoming drivers from your lights.

The United States lags behind other parts of the world when it comes to ADB and other advanced vehicle lighting. However, ADB headlamps are available in Canada, the EU, and China. Companies including Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche offer ADB headlights outside the country. More potential vehicle lighting advances are also being set back by these regulations, including pedestrian and obstacle detection-capable lighting systems, lighting that sends traffic-safety updates to drivers, and OLED display tail lights.

However, recently, the U.S. highway safety regulators have announced that they will allow new high-tech headlights that can automatically tailor beams to focus on dark zones of the road and with no glare for oncoming drivers. As we begin to see this rollout, it will change the way drivers navigate the road.

Cars with Adaptive Headlights

Sussing out which automakers actually offer adaptive headlights can be complicated due to inconsistent naming of features and differences from vehicle to vehicle. To better understand the landscape of adaptive headlight offerings, here are a few examples of automakers offering this ADAS.

BMW Adaptive Headlights

BMW’s adaptive LED headlights are explained in an instructional video like this:

“Various light controllers optimally adapt your vehicle’s headlamp light to an extremely broad range of road situations. The adaptive headlight follows the course of the road depending on the steering angle. As a result, the inside area of curves is illuminated better. In tight curves or when turning, the respective turning lamp is also switched on to further enlarge the illuminated area. In this way, pedestrians can be seen more easily. This diversity of light control options enables optimum illumination of the road in a broad range of driving situations.” 

Mazda Adaptive Front Lighting System

Mazda is another automaker that offers adaptive headlights on its vehicles. Here’s how Mazda explains its system:

“One of the most important factors in mitigating driver fatigue and increasing safety during night driving is providing a well-illuminated field of view. The Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) optimizes distribution of light from the headlights according to driving circumstances. Depending on vehicle speed and steering input, the system points the low-beams headlights in the direction the driver intends to travel.

In combination with discharge headlights, the system illuminates a greater distance and more brightly compared to halogen headlights, improving the driver’s field of vision and visibility around curves and at intersections during night driving. Mated with the auto-leveling function, the system offers a stable distribution of light unaffected by the vehicle’s position. Maintaining the illumination axis, the system helps to prevent drivers of oncoming vehicles from getting blinded when many people or a lot of luggage weighs down the back of the car, or when the vehicle position changes going over a bump or driving up a slope.”

Read more: List of Cars with Adaptive Headlights

ADAS Calibration

An adaptive headlight system uses several sensors. These can include light sensors, steering angle sensors, and axle position sensors. Depending on the vehicle, ADAS calibration will be needed after collision repairs, headlight replacement, or windshield replacement. Calibration is necessary to make sure this ADAS system works properly. Sensor calibration requirements will vary based on the vehicle, but may require a scan tool, targets, and proper bay conditions.

Car ADAS Solutions is an ADAS calibration industry innovator. Our ADAS calibration solutions can be used for a standalone calibration center or to add ADAS calibration services to your existing shop. Get started today!


CNET On Cars – Smarter driver: Adaptive headlights, irritation or innovation?

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