IIHS: Underperforming headlights on new cars all too common

With the return to Standard Daylight Time, many Americans are starting and ending their daily commutes in the dark. According to the National Safety Council, the chances of being involved in an accident are three times more likely at night than during the day, making the luminescence of headlights extremely important.

However, according to the results of a recent study, many of today’s automobiles are far from being shining examples of top-notch quality.

“The headlights on 10 models scored ‘poor.'”

Over the past year, the Insurance Information Institute for Highway Safety has conducted numerous safety tests on the high beams and low beams of many of today’s most popular automobiles. Routinely, few have satisfied IIHS’ exacting standards. For example, in the spring, IIHS evaluated the headlights of nearly three dozen midsize automobiles. Only one – the Toyota Prius v – earned a “good” rating. The remaining 31 were deemed either “acceptable,” “marginal,” or “poor.” In fact, 10 models were in the poor category, including the Buick Verano, Cadillac CTS, Chevy Malibu and Hyundai Sonata, among others.

IIHS Vice President and Chief Research Officer David Zuby noted that this alarming discovery warrants concern, particularly for those people who spend the better portion of their time behind the wheel in the dark.

“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,” Zuby explained.

Researchers at IIHS put the tested vehicles’ headlights through a battery of tests, analyzing glare, distinctions between low and high beams, the types of lights used (like LED lamps or halogen) and their curvature. They also examined how the lights responded when driving from different angles.

The Toyota Prius v was the lone high performer.

“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,” said Matthew Brumbelow, IIHS senior research engineer. “In contrast, someone with the halogen lights would need to drive 20 mph slower in order to avoid a crash.”

Zero small SUVs receive IIHS top score

“Not one SUV tested had headlights that IIHS considered ‘good.'”

Mid-size models, unfortunately, aren’t the only class of vehicles whose headlights largely don’t pass the quality control test. This past summer, IIHS ran another headlight evaluation, this time on small sport-utility vehicles. Of the nearly two dozen headlight pairings that were tested, not a single one earned a good rating and only four got a passing grade, the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-3.

Brumbelow said automakers have to do better.

“Manufacturers aren’t paying enough attention to the actual on-road performance of this basic equipment,” Brumbelow advised. “We’re optimistic that improvements will come quickly now that we’ve given automakers something to strive for.”

Though it’s unclear why so many headlights underperformed, IIHS believes it may stem from the fact that the government doesn’t have a single set of standards that manufacturers need to satisfy for headlights to be given the green light. Safety officials believe that creating one may help reduce highway fatalities, which have risen in recent years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Officials attribute the uptick, in part, to more people being on the roads with gas prices averaging less than $2.50 in much of the U.S.

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