Adaptive lights | What are they for

More and more new cars offer adaptive lights among their standard and optional equipment. This is a system that may be interesting for those who drive a lot at night, especially on secondary roads, since it increases safety while driving.

In recent years this technology has been improving, so you can find vehicles with very varied systems. You should not confuse this system with the automatic lights (those that turn on by themselves in low visibility situations) or with the automatic high beams (which avoid dazzling), although the most advanced adaptive headlight systems include these functionalities. Let's shed light on the matter:

What are adaptive lights?

An adaptive light system can modify the intensity of the lights, as well as their orientation, ensuring that the light beam is the most appropriate for the situation in which you find yourself. This is achieved through a group of sensors that collect all the information to make the necessary changes to the lighting technology.

Being able to modify the light beam allows you to illuminate areas that a simple headlight (which only directs the light beam forward) would not illuminate, something very interesting in curves, to illuminate the road and not the ditch. In addition, they can change the lighting depending on the weather conditions, depending on the speed the car is traveling or depending on the type of road you are driving on. They also allow you to extend the range of the light beam, but without dazzling drivers traveling in the opposite direction, reducing it in that area.

How do adaptive lights work?

Typically, the vehicle has a camera on the front (the most common location is the windshield) and there are different sensors that collect data on speed, steering wheel angle, lighting and weather conditions). Some vehicles also use data from the navigation system to provide even more information (such as illuminating a curve before you reach it).

A control unit collects all this data, processes it, and then makes the adaptive light system act in the most appropriate way. The vast majority of adaptive lights on the market work with LED headlights, since they are made up of different diodes, making it easier to adjust the lighting according to the information received.

Types of adaptive lights

Not all adaptive light systems are the same or act in the same way. They evolved over time and you can find several classes on the market, more or less evolved:

  • Static turning lights: This was the first step in adaptive lighting. They are headlights apart from the main lighting, normally located in the lower external part of the bumper and a common name was cornering function. They only light up during turns, when the steering exceeds a certain number of degrees or when the turn signals are activated. When the maneuver is completed or the steering wheel is straightened, they turn off. It seems like a small thing, but in certain situations they help a lot (they illuminate up to 90% more of the turning area compared to a conventional headlight).
  • Dynamic turning lights: The next step was obvious: eliminate those extra lights and let the main optics pivot depending on the angle of rotation. This way the road is better illuminated when facing turns. The headlights usually move within a threshold of 15 to 35°, at whatever speed the car is going.
  • High beam assistant: And if…? We imagine that with a question like this we reached the next stage. It is not only about detecting the turn, but also the rest of the road users. To achieve this, light sensors or a camera are equipped (normally on the windshield, at the base of the interior mirror) to detect cars coming from in front or preceding us, in addition to sensing if we reach an illuminated area). This way you can use high beams for longer, switching to low beams when the first ones may be annoying or unnecessary. The most advanced ones change modes depending on speed. At speeds between 55 and 115 km/h (approximately, it varies depending on the brand, the headlights provide a wider and shorter beam of light – around 70 meters). Exceeding that speed it goes into highway mode, with a longer and narrower beam, so as not to dazzle drivers coming in the opposite direction).
  • Predictive Lighting Assistant: If we add to all this that the car can know where it is and what it will find soon to better manage the lighting. How is it achieved? With the GPS data provided by the vehicle's navigation system.

Laws and background of adaptive lights

The regulations that regulate the adaptive front lighting system (AFS) – this is how adaptive lighting devices are defined – were published in Regulation No. 123 of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), “Provisions “uniform regulations relating to the approval of adaptive front lighting systems (AFS) for motor vehicles.”

It is in this text (published in the BOE as appropriate), where the general specifications are defined, what the homologation process for them by manufacturers, technical requirements and various administrative provisions must be like. They are not mandatory, in fact not all car brands have them.

There, these types of headlights that can be mounted on cars have been completely regulated since 2002. They first arrived on luxury cars and were Opel, in 2003, the first general manufacturer to offer a dynamic cornering light system and a static 90º turning light system, with the AFL system (Adaptive Forward Lighting). In 2008, the next generation of the AFL+ system debuted on the Insignia.

Technically they could have been used earlier. In fact, there were models that had systems of this type, which acted mechanically when the steering wheel was turned. The Tucker 48 (1948) already had headlights that moved in tandem with the wheels and the 1968 Citroën DS update also used directional headlights… improved in the Citroen SM 1970, which in addition to this innovation already used halogen lamps.

Advantages of adaptive lights (and cons)

Should you equip your vehicle with adaptive headlights? We, who constantly test cars in all types of situations, recommend them whenever economically possible. These are the reasons:

  • Greater security: The main one, without a doubt, and all the rest is related to her. By improving lighting in areas that the driver might not see with conventional lights,
  • Greater comfort: A driver who is more relaxed behind the wheel is safer, especially when driving at night, with reduced visibility. They also help a lot so that the transitions from light to dark are not so abrupt.
  • Greater prediction: The most advanced technology ensures that areas are illuminated before the driver reaches them. Even on roads whose layout you already know, they can warn of unforeseen events, avoiding collisions or unforeseen events.
  • Lower consumption: If only the areas are illuminated, by regulating the intensity of the light, energy is saved. This also helps the headlights last longer.

Of course, there is a catch. The price. The vast majority of premium manufacturers already include them as standard and many generalists, if not, do so in packages to make them more affordable when purchasing a new car.

As their complexity has increased, especially with LEDs, the cost of replacing them has skyrocketed. In a 2021 ADAC report, they indicated that the LEDs that make up the optics cannot be repaired individually, since the approval requires them to be sealed, forcing the entire headlight to be changed in case of breakage or failure. And it's not cheap. According to ADAC, a complete full-LED headlight can cost up to 4,800 euros in a high-end vehicle. In a generalist car in the C segment, between 1,200 and 1,800 euros.

Happy drivers

Client testimonials

Lisa D.


Theuth has completely changed how I follow automotive news. Relevant articles, thorough reviews, and an active community!

Hanna A.


I never miss a live show. It's like having front-row seats at every exhibition or race, but from my couch!

Andrew R.


As a novice in the world of motorbikes, Theuth's guides and analysis have been invaluable for my first purchase.

Ignite the drive, explore the ride