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Audi's Matrix-beam lights banned by 1968 U.S. regulation

by Ronan Glon

The Matrix-beam lights do not have low- and high-beam settings.

Audi's Matrix-beam headlights have been banned from the United States by a regulation that was adopted in 1968, two full years before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was formed. The 45-year old rule requires headlights to be have both low and high beams, settings that Audi's new lights don't offer.

Displayed at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show earlier this year, the Matrix-beam headlights use several sensors and cameras to scope out the road ahead at night. When light generated by an oncoming vehicle is detected, the system automatically dims the individual light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that are aimed at the driver of the vehicle. The LEDs are turned back on immediately after the car has passed, eliminating the need to manually alternate between high beams and low beams.

The system is billed as a breakthrough in LED technology and Audi executives have criticized the U.S. government for clinging on to outdated laws.

"The U.S. regulation knows only high beam and low beam and nothing in between," said Stephen Berlitz, Audi's head of lighting innovations, in an interview with industry journal Automotive News. "The newer technologies allow having something in between."

The NHTSA responded to Audi's allegations by saying that it is not firmly entrenched in the past. It is open to new innovations but it is not convinced that LED lights on either end of a vehicle make roads safer. It will discuss the headlight regulations with representatives from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a group that includes parts suppliers, auto manufacturers and safety experts, before the end of the year.

In Europe, the Matrix-beam headlights will debut on Audi's range-topping A8 sedan in the near future and the technology will gradually be added to other members of the lineup.

Volvo is working on a similar system called Active High Beam Control.