Out of the age of

darkness

Ford Mustang, convertible, headlights

IN terms of lighting up the road ahead drivers have never had it so good.

When you look back to the cars of the 1960s you just had to limit your speed at night to the rather poor range of the headlight technology available.

In fact some headlights were downright poor. I remember driving an Austin A35 van and being caught in a real pea-soup fog in 1965 and the view ahead was virtually nil, the headlights being just about as good as two pocket torches.

But what a difference half a century makes. New car headlight technology means modern drivers really do live in an age of enlightenment, with a stark contrast between the night-time driving visibility enjoyed today and the drastically less effective headlamps their grandparents had to put up with.

Today's drivers not only benefit from bright xenon and LED headlights but also from technology that can automatically brake for pedestrians.

"In terms of lighting technology, we have come out of the dark ages," said Michael Koherr, Ford's lighting research engineer. "It is quite incredible what a fundamental difference these changes contribute in terms of road safety and driver comfort."

Xenon headlights - featured on the Ford Mustang - have around three times the output of halogen bulbs. Like the sophisticated LED headlights offered for cars including the Ford Mondeo and Edge SUV, xenon lights produce a bright white light that can make them appear up to five times brighter than the yellowish light of halogen bulbs.

Of course, drivers now may be travelling faster than Model T drivers. But they also benefit from significant improvements in technology that mean lighting adapts to speed and surroundings.

Headlights are also now designed to gradually fade at the edge of the beam pattern, rather than stopping abruptly, allowing objects in the dark to come steadily into view rather than appearing suddenly in view.

"In the future we'll see more super-bright LED lights equipped to cars, which can actually help drivers remain alert. Visibility at night is now so much better," said Koherr.

"We are now developing new spot lighting technology that helps draw the driver's attention to pedestrians, cyclists and even large animals in the vehicle's path. This would use an infra-red camera to locate and track people and bigger animals up to 120 metres away."

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