Now you see it, then you didn’t

February 7, 2017

Check out these photos that clearly show how much easier it is for today’s drivers to see at night – compared to previous generations – as a cyclist crosses the road just 12 metres ahead.


Almost invisible to the dim gas lamps of a 1908 Model T Ford, the man pushing his bicycle across the road is clearly visible to the bright xenon headlights on a modern day Mustang.

Drivers of the Model T – more than 15 million of which were sold from 1908 to 1927 – would have to first light the acetylene lamps before hitting the road. Today’s drivers not only benefit from xenon and LED headlights but also from technology that can automatically brake for pedestrians.


Further images show the illumination from cars of the 1930s, 1960s, 1970s and 1990s.

“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 have around three times the output of halogen bulbs. Like the sophisticated LED headlights offered for cars including the Ford 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.

“We have gone from what were essentially glorified candles to efficient and effective xenon and LED lights. 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. Like night and day,” 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.”

Images were taken at the Ford’s Heritage Centre in Dagenham, using a 1908 Ford Model T, 1932 Ford Model Y, 1966 Ford Anglia 105e (first launched 1959), 1976 Ford Fiesta, 1994 Ford Mondeo and a 2016 Ford Mustang GT lighting the scene from approximately 12 metres. Camera settings for all images; iso 1600, exposure 1/13, aperture f/9.

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