For drivers of semi-trucks, driving at night or in bad weather is about to become significantly safer as most Class 7 and 8 truck OEMs are finally making the switch to LED headlights beginning with 2019 year models.
Instead of relying on LED technology adapted from the private car sector—which may not always be suitable for over-the-road trucks—OEMs are partnering with lighting manufacturers that specialize in commercial truck headlight applications to optimize safety, function and even aesthetics.
LEDs have long been used in the heavy-duty trucking aftermarket and for OEM applications such as clearance/marker lights, cab lights, stop/tail/turn lights, backup lights, turn signals, auxiliary interior lighting, and even headlights. However, due primarily to a higher initial cost, OEMs have resisted making LEDs standard as headlights. Now, with the price of LEDs dropping—along with key improvements in the technology—OEMs are now ready to take the lead.
By offering LED headlights as a standard feature, commercial fleets and owner-operators no longer have to worry about aftermarket LED headlight replacement kits that may not meet US Department of Transportation (DOT) code.
Because the color of LEDs is closer to that of daylight than the yellowish hue of halogens, they appear brighter and can illuminate objects in the distance better. They also help a driver see more at the edge of the road, and they can last 30,000 hours—about 10 years of service for a commercial over-the-road truck.
Although LED replacement kits have been available, some may not be DOT-approved. Replacement bulb kits designed to convert halogen lamps to LED must be marked with the DOT symbol. However, some of the kits do not meet the standards for beam pattern when placed in a reflector designed for a halogen bulb.
“Long-haul trucks on the road may need an LED reflector pattern that reflects light farther out to allow adequate reaction time and braking distance while traveling at higher speed,” said Jessil Joseph, of Grote Industries, a manufacturer and supplier of LED lights and lighting products for heavy-duty trucks. “Short-haul trucks, which travel more in urban areas, usually need a wider beam pattern that can better detect traffic, cyclists and pedestrians that may unexpectedly cross in front of the truck.”
Grote is currently working with OEMs to customize headlight beam pattern and performance characteristics.
Besides allowing a longer distance or wider beam, the company can also match the high beam and the low beam to prevent overlap or a “dead” area. This can enhance nighttime and bad weather visibility while reducing driver fatigue.
Using a combination of reflectors with the LED source, Grote is also achieving energy performance efficiencies of up to 70% compared with a typical 40% industry standard. More efficiency translates into less heat, a smaller lamp profile and a more aesthetic, streamlined design.
“More heavy-duty truck OEMs are also looking for custom headlamps to differentiate their brands, as well as satisfy the requests of fleet managers and owner-operators who want a distinctive look,” said Joseph.