Headlight study: Only 1 out of 31 models rated ‘good’ by IIHS – USA TODAY
A new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety examines the headlights of more than 30 mid-sized cars, giving only one model a ‘good’ rating.
Forget driverless cars for a second. Can we just get vehicles with decent headlights?
Only one of 31 midsize cars studied by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had headlights it considered “good,” according to its study released Wednesday.
Contrary to what you might think, poor headlight performance is not exclusive to cheaper cars. IIHS found that many of the industry’s luxury midsize cars perform just as poorly as mainstream models, or even worse, with a luxury BMW model posting the lowest score.
It’s more than a convenience problem. Visibility issues create a safety hazard, ranging from excessive glare to insufficient illumination.
“With about half of traffic deaths occurring either in the dark or in dawn or dusk conditions, improved headlights have the potential to bring about substantial reductions in fatalities,” IIHS said.
John Whiteside, 54, of Rock Hill, Calif., said excessive glare from oncoming vehicles is a big problem when he drives his 2002 Toyota Camry. “I have to literally turn my head a little bit to look away,” Whiteside said. “It can blind you.”
The study also brought attention to the fact that U.S. auto-safety regulators have left headlight regulations largely untouched for a half century, thus prohibiting certain new technologies that would light the roadway better while reducing glare.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, responding to the IIHS report, noted that its proposed overhaul of its five-star safety ratings will depend partially on vehicles’ use of lower-beam headlights, semi-automatic beam switching and amber rear turn signal lights — technologies that are supposed to improve visibility for the driver and other motorists.
“Basically, we agree headlights can and should be stronger,” NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas said.
Since it’s the auto industry, there are often many different headlight options available through various packages on vehicles. So IIHS evaluated every possible combination in several scenarios, including traveling straight, veering left sharply or gradually and veering right sharply or gradually.
After assessing 82 possible combinations in 31 vehicles, the non-profit said only one — the Toyota Prius v with the highest trim level — qualified as “good.” That light combo is available only with the advanced technology package, which includes LED lights and high-beam assist. The standard model, which comes with halogen lights and no high-beam assist, gets a poor rating.
Eleven models’ best option qualified as “acceptable,” while nine were “marginal” and 10 were “poor.”
Of the poor models, four were General Motors cars (Buick Verano, Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Limited), two were Hyundai and Kia models (Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima), two were Mercedes-Benz (C-Class and CLA), one was Nissan (Altima) and one was Volkswagen (Passat).
Altogether, 44 of the 82 possible options qualified as poor, with the halogen-light model on the BMW 3 Series posting the worst performance overall.
Common problems cited on the models IIHS tested include excessive glare and poor low-beam visibility. Newfangled headlights that adapt to curves in the road helped some vehicles perform better, though not always.
To be sure, the automakers aren’t necessarily violating any regulations with poor-performing lights.
“The ability to see the road ahead, along with any pedestrians, bicyclists or obstacles, is an obvious essential for drivers,” IIHS said. “However, government standards for headlights, based on laboratory tests, allow huge variation in the amount of illumination that headlights provide in actual on-road driving.”
David Zuby, the institute’s executive vice president and chief researcher, told the Associated Press that regulations for headlights “are essentially unchanged” since the 1960s.
“In the standard, they are measuring the light coming out of the light source — right in front of the light bulb, in essence — and not looking at how the light is projected down the road, which is what our tests do,” Zuby told the AP.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.