If you thought your car’s headlights performed poorly after dark, your suspicions were verified yesterday with the release of a major headlight study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The study of 31 vehicles by the insurance research organization showed that only one-third was acceptable, another third were marginal and the final third were poor. Only one vehicle, the Toyota Prius v, and only when it was equipped with an optional LED headlight system that combines auto-dimming for oncoming cars, was able to attain a good.
Currently, headlights meet the standards established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, while the lights do meet safety standards “better headlights could reduce U.S. Accident deaths and improve safety,” the group said in a statement. The IIHS headlight program was the first time the group has rated headlights. IIHS testing sought to answer:
- How well the headlights used on current midsized models illuminated the road
- How much glare was created for oncoming traffic?
The IIHS said that government rules allow a significant variance in how well current headlights light in real-world driving. When put into this context, the IIHS testing found that:
- Only one model, Prius v, earned a good rating and that only occurred when optional LED headlights were installed. The headlights were plugged into an optional auto-dimming system that shuts down brights when there is an oncoming car.
- Of 31 midsize models tested, only 11 earned an acceptable rating
- Of the midsize models tested, only nine rated marginal
- Of the midsize models tested, 10 were rated poor
Interestingly, IIHS said a vehicle’s price tag is no guarantee of decent headlights. Many of the poorly rated headlights belong to luxury cars. No matter what the vehicle, though, IIHS said the ability to see the road ahead, along with any pedestrians, bicyclists or obstacles is an obvious essential for drivers … With about half of traffic deaths occurring either in the dark or dawn or dusk conditions, improved headlights have the potential to bring about substantial reductions in fatalities.
Many times, motorists blame themselves for having trouble seeing at night. Older drivers, whose eyesight may have changed, belong to this category, however, it may not be the drivers at all. “If you’re having trouble seeing the vehicle behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights,” David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer said in discussing the study yesterday.
The IIHS study comes at a particularly good time, the safety group said. “Recent advances in headlihght technology make it a good time to focus on the issue. In many vehicles, High-intensity discharge (HID) or LED lamps have replaced halogen ones. Curve-adaptive headlights, which swivel according to steering input, are also becoming more widespread.”
IIHS was cautious in its praise of the Prius v system because it noted that consumers had to pay an extra amount to equip the vehicle with LED lights and its high-beam assist package. It is only available on the highest trim level and consumers must also purchase the advanced technology package. If on the other hand, a customer opts for a standard lighting package on the Prius, the Prius v earns a poor rating. “The Prius v’s LED low beams should give a driver traveling straight at 70 mph enough time to stop,” Matthew Brumbelow, an IIHS senior research engineer says. “In contrast, someone with the halogen lights would need to drive 20 mph slower in order to avoid a crash.”
Interestingly, Brumbelow mentioned the fact that maintenance has a large impact on lighting. He suggests that if manufacturers did a better job aligning their headlights. “Many product problems could be fixed with better aim,” he emphasized.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in a statement that when it unveils its revised new-car assessment program in the next couple of months, automakers will be given incentives to improve headlight performance. “NHTSA is committed to promoting a higher standard of safety, including in headlighting systems,” Bryan Thomas, spokesman, said.
In its most-recent study of traffic deaths at night – 2007 – the agency found that 49 percent of passenger traffic deaths happen at night. However, only 25 percent of driving occurs at night. There’s no clear correlation of how much the fatality rate feels the impact of lighting or other factors such as speeding or drinking.
Here is a complete listing of the IIHS study results:
- Toyota Prius v
- Audi A3
- Honda Accord 4-door
- Infiniti Q50
- Lexus ES
- Lexus ISM
- Masda 6
- Nissan Maxima
- Subaru Outlook (built after November 2015)
- Volkswagen CC
- Volkswagen Jetta
- Acura TLX
- Audi A4
- BMW 2 Series
- BMW 3 Series
- Chrysler 200
- Ford Fusion
- Lincoln MKZ
- Subaru Legacy
- Toyota Camry
- Buick Verano
- Cadillac ATS
- Chevrolet Malibu
- Chevrolet Malibu Limited (fleet)
- Hyundai Sonata
- Kia Optima
- Mercedes-Benz CLA
- Nissan Altima
- Volkswagen Passat
Automotive News and IIHS provided information for this story.