On-road experiment to assess drivers’ detection of roadside targets as a function of headlight system, target placement, and target reflectance

Reagan, Ian J. / Brumbelow, Matthew L. / Frischmann, Tim
Accident Analysis & Prevention (AAP)
March 2015

Adaptive headlights swivel with steering input to keep the beams on the roadway as drivers negotiate curves. To assess the effects of this feature on driver’s visual performance, a field experiment was conducted at night on a rural, unlit, and unlined two-lane road during which 20 adult participant drivers searched a set of 60 targets. High- (n = 30) and low- (n = 30) reflectance targets were evenly distributed on straight road sections and on the inside or outside of curves. Participants completed three target detection trials: once with adaptive high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, once with fixed HID headlights, and once with fixed halogen headlights. Results indicated the adaptive HID headlights helped drivers detect targets that were most difficult to see (low reflectance) at the points in curves found by other researchers to be most crucial for successful navigation (inside apex). For targets placed on straight stretches of road or on the outside of curves, the adaptive feature provided no significant improvement in target detection. However, the pattern of results indicate that HID lamps whether fixed or adaptive improved target detection somewhat, suggesting that part of the real world crash reduction measured for this adaptive system (Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), 2012a) may be due to the differences in the light source (HID vs. halogen). Depending on the scenario, the estimated benefits to driver response time associated with the tested adaptive (swiveling HID) headlights ranged from 200 to 380 ms compared with the fixed headlight systems tested.

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