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Troy, N.Y. -  10/9/2013

LRC Evaluates Safety Impacts of Advanced Car Headlight Systems

Photo of automotive lightingCrash risks while driving at night are higher than during the daytime, but most roadways in the U.S. do not have roadway lighting. In fact, many state and local governments find it difficult to pay for installing, operating and maintaining roadway lighting. Despite these concerns, the proportion of nighttime driving is not likely to go down in today's round-the-clock economy, making car headlights increasingly important to nighttime driving safety. Through its Transportation Lighting and Safety program, the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is evaluating the potential for new lighting technologies and approaches to improve driving safety at night, including new car headlight systems.

Senior Research Scientist and Adjunct Assistant Professor John Bullough presented recent LRC research results at two international conferences dedicated to driving, vision, lighting and safety. At the International Symposium on Automotive Lighting (, held September 23-25 in Darmstadt, Germany, Bullough presented a paper entitled "Applying visual performance modeling to adaptive curve lighting safety data," looking at swiveling or bending headlights that direct light into roadway curves. Visibility analyses from LRC field studies using these systems in comparison with conventional, stationary low-beam headlights led to estimates of reduced nighttime crash frequencies of almost 4% along low-speed, sharp roadway curves and between 1% and 2% along higher-speed, shallower curves.

Earlier, at the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology's The Eye, The Brain and The Auto research congress ( held in Dearborn, Michigan from September 16-18, Bullough presented "Adaptive vehicle lighting, visual performance and safety," a look at the potential safety benefits of adaptive or glare-free high beam headlight systems, which are beginning to appear on international vehicle models. These systems allow drivers to use high beam headlights while selectively dimming a portion of the beam when oncoming drivers are present, which prevents glare to the oncoming drivers while providing improved visibility along the rest of the road. The LRC's analyses suggest that nighttime crashes might be reduced by nearly 7% when adaptive high beams are used, relative to using low beam headlights.

The basis for both studies was the relative visual performance (RVP) model developed by LRC Director Mark Rea. Bullough and Rea previously showed that the safety benefits from roadway intersection lighting were in line with visibility improvements evaluated using the RVP model for different types of intersections. According to Bullough, "Since visual performance for nighttime driving situations can be predicted accurately, and nighttime crash data are difficult to collect, RVP could serve as a practical surrogate for crashes, allowing us to efficiently identify new lighting systems for maximizing driving safety at night."

Both studies were sponsored by the Transportation Lighting Alliance (TLA), consisting of vehicle and lighting manufacturers Audi, Automotive Lighting, Hella, OSRAM SYLVANIA, Philips, and Varroc Lighting (

About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world's leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC has been pioneering research in solid-state lighting, light and health, transportation lighting and safety, and energy efficiency for nearly 30 years. LRC lighting scientists with multidisciplinary expertise in research, technology, design, and human factors, collaborate with a global network of leading manufacturers and government agencies, developing innovative lighting solutions for projects that range from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to U.S. Navy submarines to hospital neonatal intensive-care units. LRC researchers conduct independent, third-party testing of lighting products in the LRC's state of the art photometric laboratories, the only university lighting laboratories accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP Lab Code: 200480-0). In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today, offers a M.S. in lighting and a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. With 35 full-time faculty and staff, 15 graduate students, and a 30,000 sq. ft. laboratory space, the LRC is the largest university-based lighting research and education organization in the world.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.”