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Good Headlights: The Most Important Technology On Your Car?

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BMW laser headlights

BMW laser headlights

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If you live in the Northern hemisphere, as the majority of the world's population does, today is the shortest day of the year.

For those of us at relatively high latitudes, that means an even shorter period of daylight hours, and like much of winter, a commute both to and from work in the dark.

Winter places even greater emphasis on having effective headlights then, and makes good visibility probably the most important safety feature of your car. The BBC has been speaking to several sources, all of whom place a strong emphasis on headlights as a vital safety tool.

Xenon

Xenon technology has become quite familiar on many modern cars, particularly those from German brands. Dominiek Plancke from Philips Lighting says that they could be particularly effective if fitted to more cars.

"In Germany... you could save 18 percent of the lives lost in traffic if all cars were equipped with Xenon headlights," he explains, based on a study by TUV Rheinland.

That's because many accidents are caused by poor observation. Brighter headlights might not fix the individual's problem, but it would at least give drivers that extra chance to see a vehicle bearing down on them before they make a maneuver, for example.

LEDs

LED technology is increasing in popularity, too. You've no doubt experienced the menacing glare of an Audi's LED daytime running lights coming up behind you on the freeway. They might get you noticed from a stylistic point of view, but they're also very effective for drawing attention in lower light conditions, too.

As a result all new vehicles sold in Europe since February 2011 must be fitted with daytime running lights, recent LED technology meaning the effect on fuel consumption is reduced over incandescent bulbs.

LEDs have also become popular for brake lights, as they're both brighter and react quicker than regular bulbs, both of which give motorists behind an extra bit of time to brake in an emergency - enough to save almost 33 feet at 56mph. They've also been fitted as the main headlights in several vehicles, such as the 2012 Audi A6 sedan.

Lasers

The very latest technology aimed at increasing safety via improving visibility is laser headlight tech.

BMW has already confirmed it's working on a production version of the technology, first previewed at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show on the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car concept and i3 electric car. The technology was originally expected to hit the market in two or three years, but it may now appear in as little as one year.

Audi also previewed laser technology at Frankfurt, with a safety theme: a red warning triangle projected onto the road behind the vehicle, alerting other drivers to its presence in heavy snow, rain or fog.

Make use of what you have!

Of course, in the absence of lasers, LEDs or even Xenon lighting, simply maintaining the headlights you have to a good standard may be one of the most effective ways to stay safe on the road.

Like us, you're sure to pass other vehicles daily with defective headlights, with either blown bulbs or poor adjustment. Both are safety hazards and it only takes a quick check to ensure your lights are fully functioning.

Stay safe this winter, and remember - it may be the shortest day today, but that just means every day from now on is another step closer to summer...
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