The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs to review its process for allowing automakers to introduce advances in lighting technology.
At issue is a petition filed by Toyota asking NHTSA to update its headlight regulations, which were last revised in 1999. Toyota wants to install headlights that use cameras to detect other cars and automatically dim the portions of the high beam that would shine in other drivers' eyes.
Toyota, which claims the technology will save lives, has installed the high beams in 16,600 cars sold in Europe and Japan, but they do not comply with U.S. regulations.
Other automakers also have headlights that use different technologies not permitted by current regulations but that also might help drivers see better and save lives.
SAE International has offered its expertise to help NHTSA if the agency decides to revise its rules. NHTSA should accept the offer and study with SAE whether those headlights will save lives.
In the meantime, NHTSA ought to let Toyota and other automakers put a few thousand cars on the road to test promising technology developments, even if it means granting a waiver of some kind.
A real-world test fleet would help determine whether American customers want the headlights, for instance, and provide the data needed to decide whether the headlights are safer.