NHTSA proposes amber turn signals, better low beams, auto beam switching

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-Virgil-

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NOTE: This is a long post. If you want to quote text from it in your reply, please quote only the specific sentences you want to talk about -- not the entire giant post.

Well, this is certainly interesting. NHTSA has put out a proposal and requested public comment (anyone can comment, just hit Comment now here or on the regulations.gov page) on the idea of awarding NCAP points to vehicles with amber rear turn signals instead of red ones, low beam headlamps that give better seeing performance and glare control than the basic legal requirements, and automatic high/low beam selectors. The proposal is a giant document, covering much more than just lighting, with detailed rationale and evaluation of every technology or feature on the list for proposed new NCAP points. If you want to read just the lighting-related parts, search the page for visibility systems. The second search hit will skip you down to the lighting section of the proposal.

Some background:

These days there are numerous NCAPs around the world (Euro-NCAP, AustraliaNCAP, even China has one). The USA NCAP program was the first of its kind in the world when NHTSA introduced it in 1979. The NCAP goal is to improve safety by "developing and implementing comparative safety information that encourages manufacturers to voluntarily improve the safety of their vehicles." NHTSA says the program has "strongly influenced manufacturers to build vehicles that consistently achieve high ratings". Over time, NCAP has been broadened to cover more and more aspects of vehicle design, equipment, and performance.

The NCAP program grades vehicles on a 1-to-5 star system, but it would stop being helpful unless its criteria were made stricter, because if every car gets 4 or 5 stars, that's not really useful for consumers (and doesn't incentivize automakers to keep doing better). So the NCAP criteria are upgraded as new technologies prove their safety benefit and become cost-feasible.

NHTSA says, in public and in private, that it's easier to upgrade NCAP than to upgrade Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, because NCAP can be changed without cost/benefit analysis and other impediments in the US regulatory process. Compared to regulations, NCAP is a "free market" way of herding automakers. But the downside of that is that automakers are free to wipe their butts with the NCAP tests if they want to. All they have to do is comply with FMVSS. On the other hand, if automaker A decides to ignore the NCAPs, automaker B or C or D will, and the idea is those companies will drain sales away from automaker A, thus incentivizing automaker A to get on board and design/equip their vehicles to get good NCAP ratings.

To a fair extent, this actually works; automakers do have a pretty good history of working toward 5-star ratings for their vehicles, even as the tests get tougher and expand to cover more things. So OK, there are good reasons for using market-based, voluntary ways of encouraging makers to make (and buyers to buy) safer cars. But there are limitations to what this kind of method can do. Again, all vehicle makers have to do is build vehicles that meet all applicable regulations. Even if every automaker works really hard to get a 5-star NCAP rating every time, NCAP doesn't apply to all types of vehicles, so NCAP doesn't exert any pressure with regard to vehicles that aren't looked at by NCAP.

OK, that's the background. Now here are my (initial) thoughts about the lighting proposals.

Turn signals:

This newest NHTSA analysis of turn signals is very detailed, finding amber ones are more effective than red ones in 11 of 32 kinds of crash-or-avoid situations. Test cars confirmed as having amber turn signals would receive six NCAP points that would not be available to cars with red ones.

The first thing that occurs to me is that it's kind of hard to call amber rear turn signals a new or advanced technology. Australia and Italy were first to require amber rear turn signals. That was in 1960, fifty-six years ago. By the mid-1970s, most of the world's vehicle lighting regulations required amber rear turn signals and rejected red ones. The exception, of course, was (and remains) the US regulation that still allows red or amber. Ask why, and for years the answer used to be "Wellll, there's really no proof amber is better, and red is cheaper, and automakers like the design flexibility". Then NHTSA did research in 2009 showing that amber is better than red. So then when we asked why red is still allowed, the answer was "Wellll, red is cheaper, and automakers like the design flexibility". But now in this new proposal, NHTSA says (emphasis mine):

To avoid imposing an unreasonable cost to society, NHTSA's lighting regulation continues to allow for low-cost signal and visibility configurations. The agency believes reduction in rear-end crashes with property damage or injury can be achieved with amber rear turn signal lamps at a cost comparable to red rear turn signal lamp configurations.

Hey, that's new. That 2009 research found that amber turn signals offer a 5.3% crash-avoidance benefit compared to red ones. That is better than the benefit of the Center High Mounted Stop Lamp (CHMSL, the 3rd brake light), which in the long term has shown to reduce crashes by 4.3%. So that kind of raises a question: Just quick back-of-envelope math suggests that adding a CHMSL to the design and production of a vehicle carries a cost at least as much as the cost of putting amber turn signals instead of red ones. So if amber turn signals prevent significant numbers of crashes, and they don't impose an unreasonable cost, why aren't amber turn signals mandatory like the CHMSL?

It's not just an rhetorical question, either. NCAP stars might nudge automakers to put amber turn signals on the kinds of vehicles NCAP looks like: passenger cars and SUVs. But again, NCAP won't nudge trucks, cargo vans, transit buses, tour buses, semi tractors and trailers, etc. There are lots of those vehicles on American roads, and they're larger and less maneuverable than passenger cars and SUVs. That makes their signals even more important, because a larger vehicle blocks a larger portion of the view of a larger number of nearby drivers. In effect, this means drivers are forced to depend on the signals of the view-blocking vehicle. I think that kind of makes it problematic that this NHTSA proposal will give makers no incentive to put safer amber signals on large vehicles.

I also think it's interesting that the substantive first public comment on the whole big proposal is a private citizen supporting amber turn signals and calling on NHTSA to make them mandatory, not just award NCAP points for them, or at least give more than 6 points. I think he's got a point, starting from his first three words: "As a motorist". The turn signal color affects everyone who has to drive in traffic with any given vehicle, and there's no real built-in incentive for automakers to charitably provide (say) amber turn signals instead of red ones. On the other hand, the design of a car influences a car buyer, and that's the line automakers are thinking along when they say their customers prefer red turn signals, see the last two paragraphs of this Canadian newspaper article (which gets some stuff wrong further up, e.g., the silly thing about the VW Tiguan). So this proposal to award NCAP points for amber turn signals, even though I think it falls short, is still a worthwhile thing if it gets even just some makers putting amber turn signals on even just some more cars.

OK, enough about turn signals, then there's the proposal about low-beam headlamps.

NCAP points, up to 15 of them, would be awarded to cars with low beams that give more light than the legal minimum and put out less glare than the legal maximum. Quoting from NHTSA again:

Lower beam headlamp performance beyond the minimum requirements of FMVSS 108 will result in additional safety benefits, increased vehicle luminance will reduce the risk of pedestrian fatalities at night. This additional light could have unintended consequences if it is not properly controlled to limit glare. As such, the test procedure grades a vehicle's lower beams for seeing light far down the road, but reduces the score for a headlighting system that produces glare. Unlike the current test procedure for the FMVSS No. 108 requirement that evaluates a headlamp in a laboratory, this NCAP test would evaluate the headlighting system as installed on the vehicle.

The proposed NCAP lower beam test (see it here) is interesting: it would establish the system's level of performance by measuring illuminance just above the road surface, 75 to 115 meters ahead of the vehicle. On a flat, straight road five detectors would be placed 20cm above the road surface, ahead and 4 meters to the right of the vehicle's centerline. One at 75m, one at 85m, one at 95m, one at 105m, and one at 115m. A sixth detector, for glare, would be placed 60m ahead of the car, 4m to the left of the vehicle's centerline, and 1m above the road surface.

The vehicle's fuel tank would be full, tires inflated to manufacturer specs, if it has halogen headlamps the new bulbs would be replaced by seasoned (aged) ones, the low beam headlamps would be aimed to manufacturer specifications and NHTSA-specified weight placed in the driver's seat area, and the low beam headlamps would be switched on. Then readings would be taken from each detector.

Each seeing detector that reads ≥ 3 lux counts as a +1 visibility score. Each seeing detector that reads < 3 lux counts as a 0 visibility score. All five visibility scores are totalled up. To get 3 lux at those locations, you need (from the pair of headlamps) 16,875 candela at 75m; 21,675 at 85m; 27,075 at 95m; 33,075 at 105m, and 39,675 at 115m.

If the glare detector reads ≥ 0.634 lux, then the vehicle's glare score is 1. If the glare detector reads < 0.634 lux, then the glare score is 0. (0.634 lux at 60 meters = just a hair over 2282 candela from the pair of headlamps at that location).

Again, these measurements are made with the headlamps installed on the vehicle, aimed to maker's specs, and pairwise...not an individual, single headlamp aimed to regulation specs in a test lab, so it's not possible to convert these locations into beam test points without knowing the headlamp height off the road surface and how far apart the left and right lamps are on the vehicle.

The vehicle's ranking is determined by [5x total visibility score] - [10x glare score]. So if three of the seeing detectors see at least 3 lux, and the glare detector sees no more than 0.634 lux, then that vehicle's overall score would be [5 x 3] - [10 x 0] = 15. If all five of the seeing detectors see at least 3 lux, and the glare detector sees more than 0.634 lux, then that vehicle's score would be [5 x 5] - [10 x 1] = 15. If all five seeing detectors see at least 3 lux and the glare detector sees no more than 0.634 lux, then that vehicle's score would be [5 x 5] - [10 x 0] = 25. And so on. It's a little unclear to me how these scores would translate to NCAP points, because they say the maximum number of points available for low beams is 15, but the best possible score for the low beam test is 25.

The third branch of the lighting part of this proposal is automatic high/low beam switching. Cars with auto high/low beam would be eligible for 9 NCAP points. NHTSA calls the system "semi-automatic" because FMVSS 108 requires a manual high/low beam control in every vehicle, even if it has an auto high/low beam system. This proposal to award points for auto high/low beam is probably a good one; drivers overwhelmingly use low beams when they should be using high beams, which means much shorter-than-appropriate seeing distance, and that causes crashes and pedestrian deaths. Not to mention the numskulls who drive around in traffic with their high beams on when they should be using low beam. There's a test procedure for determining if a vehicle has the system and whether it works well enough to be of real use.

Comments are due by 16 February; speak up and participate in the process if you have something to say about it.

-Virgil-
 
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64.5vette

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I commented this
"Good evening!

I live in the san francisco bay area, and drivers here know absolutely nothing about proper vehicular lighting. Multiple times every day I get blinded by improperly aimed beams, hid or led kids, people driving with high beams on in traffic or when a bulb in burned out. When I travel into the california hills a majority of drivers don't even know that high beams exist, I generally have to teach the drivers of cars I ride in how to use high and low beam. Auto high beam control systems would help this greatly, but as the average age of american cars continues to increase so would more NHTSA enforcement of illegal goods sold on commerce websites such as ebay or amazon, along with driver training.


In addition FMVSS 108 has a wide range of legally compliant headlamps. A sealed beam designed in the 50s is legally just as good as a modern multi led headlamp, which is unacceptable. I strongly agree that we should award points to better low beam systems.


Thank you for your time."
 

greenlight

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I'm sure they mean well, but changing colors isn't going to get people to use their signals. Where do you think they get their stats? Accidents where the motorist at fault 'claimed' that they were using their turn signals but the other person didn't see them?

They could make driving safer by just putting a couple of 1984 type stickers in the car to instruct drivers:
Turn signals are good for everyone!
 

Qship1996

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I am all for better,brighter headlamp standards....but until they require lenses that do not degrade into a foggy cloud,it is pointless.
 

-Virgil-

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I'm sure they mean well, but changing colors isn't going to get people to use their signals

True, but enough people do use their signals that the color of the rear one matters.

Where do you think they get their stats? Accidents where the motorist at fault 'claimed' that they were using their turn signals but the other person didn't see them?

Um, no. That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works.
 

Alaric Darconville

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I'm sure they mean well, but changing colors isn't going to get people to use their signals. Where do you think they get their stats? Accidents where the motorist at fault 'claimed' that they were using their turn signals but the other person didn't see them?
The data comes from studying crashes wherein the vehicles are similar enough but for changes in the color of the rear signal. Do drivers of cars with red rear turn signals lie more than the ones with SAE Yellow rear turn signals?

Let's not turn this into "but, but, people LIE" and other derailing.
 

haha1234

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Do modern automatic high/low beam switching systems work any better than GM's Autronic Eye from the 60s? That's why I can't support that particular requirement.
 

-Virgil-

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Do modern automatic high/low beam switching systems work any better than GM's Autronic Eye from the 60s?

Oh, god, yes. Today's camera-driven systems are highly reliable and accurate. Much, much better than the systems of the '80s, let alone those of the '50s and '60s. And -- again -- there is a test protocol in place to see if the system actually works quickly and correctly. It's not just "Oh, looky here, the brochure says this car has auto beam switching, so yeah, let's award the NCAP points".
 

KXA

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This is hopefully a first step in the right direction with amber rear turn signals and headlights that are higher in performance and not just meet the minimum requirements (this is one major reason I've not bought a domestic branded vehicle in 20 years). I'm personally not fond of any type of automatic headlights, regardless of who makes them.
 

Alaric Darconville

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This is hopefully a first step in the right direction with amber rear turn signals and headlights that are higher in performance and not just meet the minimum requirements (this is one major reason I've not bought a domestic branded vehicle in 20 years).
Foreign-made does not necessarily mean better headlamp performance. And foreign-made vehicles don't necessarily have amber rear turn signals (but it's quite rare to see any modern foreign-made vehicle with incorporated stop and turn lamps).

Then there's the oddball car like the '76 Mustang II or the '78 Dodge Monaco-- those had amber rear turn signals.

I'm personally not fond of any type of automatic headlights, regardless of who makes them.
In many cases of "automatic for automotive", it's exposure to poorly-working or poorly-implemented examples that causes a lingering distrust of the concept in the first place. By the time we're allowed automatic beam distribution and adaptive headlamps, the kinks will have long been worked out.
 

-Virgil-

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(but it's quite rare to see any modern foreign-made vehicle with incorporated stop and turn lamps).

Many present-model and recent-model Mercedes, Porsche, and Audi US-spec models have combined stop/turn lamps. Also the Smart cars and probably some others, if I think about a list.

In many cases of "automatic for automotive", it's exposure to poorly-working or poorly-implemented examples that causes a lingering distrust of the concept in the first place.

Very true! Once bitten, twice shy.

By the time we're allowed automatic beam distribution and adaptive headlamps, the kinks will have long been worked out.

Here's hoping so.
 

KXA

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Foreign-made does not necessarily mean better headlamp performance. And foreign-made vehicles don't necessarily have amber rear turn signals (but it's quite rare to see any modern foreign-made vehicle with incorporated stop and turn lamps).

Then there's the oddball car like the '76 Mustang II or the '78 Dodge Monaco-- those had amber rear turn signals.


In many cases of "automatic for automotive", it's exposure to poorly-working or poorly-implemented examples that causes a lingering distrust of the concept in the first place. By the time we're allowed automatic beam distribution and adaptive headlamps, the kinks will have long been worked out.

Yep, remember those cars quite well. Shame of a Mustang (glorified Pinto). The domestic vehicles I've owned had awful headlights (sealed beams, HB1 etc.). I switched to Toyota (Koito), and loved the performance. It's a shame that the European vehicles here in the US have adopted the attitude of Detroit, thinking that all North Americans want is all red tail lights assemblies. I for one do not, and will not buy a vehicle without amber rear turn signals. (My wife is currently looking for a new car, and I'm trying to convince her of the benefits of rear amber turn signals...I point them out to her when we're in traffic...I think that she's coming around.)
 

KXA

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Well Virgil, you hit the nail on the head. Had a company vehicle with auto headlights. Where I live, we have a state ferry service. They require that motorists dim their lights when boarding. Because the lights were automatic, I could not turn them off and would end up blinding the loading personnel. I'd consider automatic headlights if there was a way to override it in situations like this.
 

-Virgil-

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Because the lights were automatic, I could not turn them off and would end up blinding the loading personnel. I'd consider automatic headlights if there was a way to override it in situations like this.

The current proposal is not to do with automatic headlamps on/off, it's to do with automated high/low beam selection when the headlamps are turned on and you're driving on the road.

thinking that all North Americans want is all red tail lights assemblies. I for one do not, and will not buy a vehicle without amber rear turn signals.

Don't tell us that...tell NHTSA that! Go comment on the proposal.
 

TEEJ

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Each seeing detector that reads ≥ 3 lux counts as a +1 visibility score. Each seeing detector that reads < 3 lux counts as a 0 visibility score. All five visibility scores are totalled up. To get 3 lux at those locations, you need (from the pair of headlamps) 16,875 candela at 75m; 21,675 at 85m; 27,075 at 95m; 33,075 at 105m, and 39,675 at 115m.

Why 3 lux? Why 3 lux at all distances?

Why no ADDED points for being over 3 lux?

We need more lux further away than we do up close, to see the same details......yet the std seems to ignore that?

The glare issue could also just fail it if there's glare...instead of a 1 point penalty.

Also, if a seasoned bulb is used (Halogen), that would reduce the glare a new bulb would be projected to have, so a car passing the glare aspect could glare until ITS bulb "seasoned".


Is it to simplify the ratings?
 
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-Virgil-

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Why 3 lux? Why 3 lux at all distances?

That's a well-established value for useful illuminance in mesopic (night driving) conditions.

Why no ADDED points for being over 3 lux?

Good question. Probably because what's needed in something like the NCAP program is a threshold value, a yes/no line.

We need more lux further away than we do up close, to see the same details

Not quite. We need more intensity from the headlamps at angles that correspond to further-away points, to achieve any given level of illuminance. For example (to repeat from my original post) it takes 39,675 candela (intensity) to provide 3 lux (illuminance) at 115 meters distance, but only 16,875 candela (intensity) to provide 3 lux (illuminance) at 75 meters distance. This 3 lux goal for the points at each visibility detector seems like a reasonable threshold to me.

The glare issue could also just fail it if there's glare...instead of a 1 point penalty

It's not a 1-point penalty. If the glare's higher than the 0.634 lux threshold, ten points are subtracted from the score.

Also, if a seasoned bulb is used (Halogen), that would reduce the glare a new bulb would be projected to have

Not necessarily, it could easily increase the glare (filament distortion). And even if the filament remains in perfect like-new shape and orientation, the seeing would be reduced quite a lot more than the glare would be reduced, meaning the headlamp system's score would still take a dent.
 

Alaric Darconville

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Had a company vehicle with auto headlights. Where I live, we have a state ferry service. They require that motorists dim their lights when boarding. Because the lights were automatic, I could not turn them off and would end up blinding the loading personnel. I'd consider automatic headlights if there was a way to override it in situations like this.

And that's another example of "automatic for automotive"-- sensible provisions for overriding those systems are one way of working out a kink or two. Maybe a nice little "guard house" button that will turn off the headlamps at speeds below 5mph and then turn them back on again when you exceed 10mph. The "guard house" scenario was one of the reasons I disabled my Corolla's DRLs-- it also disabled the "automatic on" headlamps so I could approach the guard house at an installation without blinding anyone. I can also go down to just parking lamps in the drivethru at night, which is probably appreciated by the driver of the car in front of me.

Granted, automatic beam distribution, working well, could protect the night vision of the MPs as you approach, AND let you leave the lightswitch untouched. This would represent the optimal solution-- so automatic and so refined that the need to override it would be obviated.

-Virgil- said:
Many present-model and recent-model Mercedes, Porsche, and Audi US-spec models have combined stop/turn lamps. Also the Smart cars and probably some others, if I think about a list.
Oh... THOSE foreign cars. Forgot about them. Now that you mention it, I do remember seeing a Smart car the other day and thought it was a Dumb car for having incorporated turn and stop lamps.
 
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