IIHS Study Shows Your Headlights May Be Doing a Poor Job

IIHS headlight study

Headlights are not something most people think about when buying a new car. But considering half of all accidents take place at night, you might want to pay attention to what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has to say in its ranking of headlights.

The bad news, according to the IIHS, is that the Toyota Prius v is the only midsize car out of 31 tested that receives a good rating. Throw in the various trim levels among those 31 cars, and the Prius v is the only midsize car of 82 variants to get the rating.

Toyota Prius v IIHSHere’s some really distressing news from the IIHS: 10 of 31 vehicles tested can’t be bought with anything but poor-rated headlights. Nine of the 31 cars get marginal ratings.

These are the 10 vehicles (in alphabetical order) judged to have poor headlights:

“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,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer.

Headlights are evaluated on the track after dark at the IIHS Vehicle Research Center. A special device measures the light from both low beams and high beams as the vehicle is driven on five different approaches: traveling straight, a sharp left curve, a sharp right curve, a gradual left curve and a gradual right curve.

Here’s an interesting observation from the testing: The readings on the straightaway are weighted more heavily than those on the curves, because more crashes occur on straight sections of road. It makes sense when you think about it, because you naturally slow down for curves, which allows you more reaction time.

Prius v and BMW3

The IIHS considers the halogen lights on the BMW 3 Series to be the worst. It reports a driver with those headlights would have to be going 35 mph or slower to stop in time for an obstacle in the travel lane. A driver behind the wheel of a Prius v could be going 70 mph and stop in time.

See what a difference good headlights make? You could be going twice as fast and stop in the same amount of time.

Consumer Reports also rates headlights as part of its evaluations. But it does things differently. The testing organization constructed a special building to determine headlight effectiveness. During a tour at its Connecticut facility, it was explained that there are too many variables in nature’s darkness (such as phases of the moon and cloud cover) to apply consistent testing. Now all cars can be tested under the exact same conditions.

The IIHS also points out that newer isn’t always better. It said curve-adaptive systems, for example, don’t always lead to better ratings. Also, the Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class all earn poor ratings even when equipped with adaptive low and high beams. IIHS likes those systems, because drivers often don’t switch on their high beams when they should.

-Keith Griffin

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