The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted their first headlight ratings evaluation and the results didn’t shine. Out of thirty-one 2016 midsize cars tested, only one the Toyota Prius v, earned a “good” rating. Eleven models earned an “acceptable” rating, nine had a “marginal” rating and ten earned a “poor” rating.
The ratings were given to several models, all at different price points. However, results showed that it doesn’t matter how expensive a car is, that doesn’t guarantee good headlights. IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer says, “If you’re having trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame”.
The government’s standard for headlights showed large differences in how bright lights were on the road. About half of all traffic deaths happen at night or in the dawn or dusk, where there is low visibility, which is why the IIHS feels that better headlights could prevent fatalities.
What the IIHS looks for when awarding headlight ratings are high levels of illumination and low levels of glare for oncoming vehicles. Advances in technology such as LED lights and headlights with the ability to curve and swivel based on the steering input usually have better ratings.
Specifically, headlights are evaluated on a track when it is dark at the IIHS vehicle research center. Low beam and high beam lights are measured. The cars also drive from five different approaches: straight, sharp left curve, sharp right curve, a gradual left and a gradual right. The lights are then compared to a hypothetical perfect headlight system to find out their rating. It is more important for a good score on low beams than high beams as they are used more often. If a car had “high-beam assist,” meaning the car turned high beams on when visibility was low, it could earn a few extra points. Any car deemed to have an “excessive” glare on any of the approaches couldn’t’ earn above a marginal rating.
Cars can have different headlights depending on their production, so there were 82 headlight ratings for the 2016 models although there were only 31 cars. The Toyota Prius v earned the only “good” rating because of the combination of its LED lights and high-beam assist. However, these headlights only come with the highest level of the model. The regular model had halogen lights and no assist, earning a poor rating.
So what’s the difference between a “good” and “poor” rating? Well, according to Matthew Brumbelow, an IIHS senior research engineer, “The Prius v’s LED low beams should give a driver traveling straight at 70 mph enough time to identify an obstacle on the right side of the road, where the light is best, and brake to a stop. In contrast, someone with the halogen lights would need to drive 20 mph slower in order to avoid a crash.”
The poorest of the “poor” ratings actually was earned by the BMW 3 series. A BMW 3 series driver would have to be driving at 35 mph or less to stop to avoid something in the road. To have that car with better lights you would have to opt for the more expensive model with an LED curve-adaptive system with high-beam assist, which only rates “marginal”. But that doesn’t hold true for all cars. Cadillac, Kia and Mercedes-Benz all had models with curve-adaptive systems that had “poor” ratings. A lot of the time it is because of the glare for oncoming cars that the lights create.
Another surprising find was with the Honda Accord, earning two different headlight ratings. The halogen light model earned an “acceptable” rating while the LED light model scored a “marginal” rating, showing that LED doesn’t automatically mean better.
The most important takeaway from this is that car manufacturers need to step up their game when it comes to headlights. Lights are a key to car safety and having good lights could prevent hundreds, if not thousands of crashes every year. If you are in the market for a new car, take the headlight rating into consideration, especially if you drive a lot at night.