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Thoughts On Auto-Dipping Headlights

headlight-types-and-functions_auto-headlights-at-night-02_02We’ve had automatic dusk-sensing headlights.  We’ve had cornering headlights and auto-levelling headlights. Now the latest in active safety for headlights is being seen in a number of new models: automatic dipping headlights.

In a way, automatically dipping headlights use the same sort of light sensing technology as dusk-sensing headlights. However, instead of realising that there aren’t enough photons hitting the sensors so the lights come on, this technology realises that all of a sudden there are far too many photons coming in so those high-beam headlights had better dip pronto so the oncoming driver doesn’t get dazzled.

Half of me thinks that this is a great idea. Haven’t we all had experiences when an oncoming driver doesn’t dip his or her headlights until the last minute, leaving you blinking and frantically trying to regain your night vision? (Safety hint: pull over if you can until you’re no longer dazzled). It’s always a bit of a puzzle as to what to do: do you flicker your lights between dipped and full to let the driver know that he/she needs to dip in return – and run the risk of having two dazzled drivers driving at speed in opposite directions with all the risks involved in that – or whether you just grit your teeth and mutter something along the lines of “stupid idiot”, to put it mildly. Sometimes, you ARE that driver who forgets to dip the lights. There’s also the situation where one or both of you decide to take the headlights off dip just a fraction of a second too early, giving the oncoming driver the full blast of your headlights on full (no joke with some of those very bright modern headlights).  Auto dipping headlights would certainly get rid of this problem.

However, there’s another part of me that doesn’t like this idea.  This part of me kind of likes deciding when to dip the lights as an oncoming driver approaches.  It’s kind of like playing chicken legally and safely – who’s going to be the first to dip the lights?  There have been a few incidents during long night-time drives on those road trips to the relatives who live a long, long way off that deciding when to dip the headlights has been the main way to keep the driver (and the passengers) alert, as it breaks up the monotony of night-time driving.  If it hadn’t been for the shall-we-dip-yet-or-shall-we-wait decision, the risk of nodding off with the hypnotic effect of white lines and reflectors flicking past repetitively would have been a lot higher. This part of me thinks that this “safety feature” to keep you awake, focussed and alert outweighs the risk of a bit of dazzling.

I also have a host of questions. Do these headlights have a manual override so you can dip the headlights if you want to, like when you’re part of a funeral cortege? Do they dip automatically when you get to a built-up area? Do they pick up cyclists, motorbikes and those cars that only have one working headlight? You never get to test-drive new cars at night (even car salespeople need to sleep sometimes), so how do you test this out?

What do other people think about the prospect of auto-dimming headlights? Love them or hate them?

Safe and happy driving at all times of day,



  1. Peter says:

    I had a rental vehicle in UK last year fitted with auto dimming lights and they worked a treat, especially in rural areas where you’d pass a car about once every five minutes. Only problem was they’d dim when approaching any large reflective road sign that bounced the vehicle’s own high beam lights back at it.

    And yes… you can override the auto function instantly.

    September 24th, 2015 at 2:41 pm

  2. Maxine says:

    I have recently purchased a Nissan Qashqai TI that has the ‘automatic dipping headlight’ feature – and I love it! It hasn’t failed me yet.

    Yes you can choose not to use this feature, yes they dip automatically when in a built up area and yes they pick up motorbikes and I presume cat with only 1 working headlight 🙂

    September 24th, 2015 at 4:19 pm