How safe are your headlights?

The bad news is that your car’s headlights may not be as efficient as you think. However, the good news is that you may be able to cancel that optometrist appointment.

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that many new cars come with acceptable, marginal, and even poorly rated headlight systems. The really surprising thing is that many of the vehicles with inadequate headlights are classified as luxury vehicles.

According to David Zuby, executive vice president and director of research at IIHS, “If you have trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it may be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame.

The importance of vehicle headlights

Obviously, your car needs to be equipped with headlights and taillights so that you can see and be seen while driving at night. And because of the potential dangers of operating a motor vehicle, automakers have realized that just having two glorified flashlights strapped to the front of a car simply isn’t not enough. About half of all traffic-related deaths have been determined to occur either in the dark, or at dawn or dusk. Thus, improved headlights will save more lives.

  • Can you see well at night? It is one thing to be able to see the road, but how well can you see the objects on the road. Obviously, people and animals need to be clearly illuminated. But smaller elements and significant pavement defects should also be observable. You can easily destroy your car if you hit a rock, brick, or pothole at full speed.
  • How long do you have to react? Every driver needs at least a few seconds to react and perform an evasive maneuver when faced with a danger. It won’t do you any good to see the deer if the animal only becomes visible when it is a few feet in front of you. Proper lighting should give you time to notice obstacles and react appropriately without endangering yourself or other drivers.
  • How much dazzle do you feel? If there is a fault in your vehicle’s headlight system that allows light to bounce back and interfere with your vision, it could cause problems when driving at night. Due to the aging characteristics of the eye, older drivers are particularly vulnerable to glare. And even if your headlights are working fine, you may still experience glare issues caused by oncoming headlights from other cars.

Of course, you might think that if you buy a brand new car with good safety ratings and all the latest tech features, you will also get a perfectly functioning lighting system. However, if the conclusions of this IIHS study are correct, unfortunately they are not.

IIHS Lighthouse Reviews

In this study, 31 midsize cars were evaluated and rated for headlight performance. Because vehicles with different trim levels sometimes come with different headlights, there were a total of 82 ratings for these 2016 models.

  • At the IIHS Vehicle Research Center, the evaluated headlights were evaluated on a track after dark with a special device that measures the light from the low beam and high beam while the vehicle is being driven.
  • A tested vehicle was driven on five different approaches: straight ahead, tight left turn, tight right turn, gradual left turn, and gradual right turn.
  • Glare from oncoming vehicles was measured from the low beam headlights in each scenario to ensure that it was not excessive.
  • The headlights were tested as received from the dealer. Although the vertical orientation of the headlights can be adjusted on most cars, the IIHS did not change the orientation of the headlights as part of this study, as few vehicle owners do, and some manufacturers do. advise against doing so.
  • After a particular vehicle was tested on the track, IIHS engineers compared its visibility and glare measurements to those of a hypothetical headlight system that would be considered ideal. Based on this comparison, a system of demerits was used to determine a rating.
  • The low beam results were weighted more heavily than the high beam results because low beams are used more frequently by most drivers. And the readings from the direct test were weighted more heavily than those from the curve evaluations because (statistically) more crashes occur on straight sections of road.
  • Headlights that produced an excessive amount of glare on one of the approaches did not score above marginal.

After all possible lighting systems on all selected vehicles were carefully evaluated, only one car was deemed to have “good” headlights: the Toyota Prius v.

The results

Out of 82 ratings, there was only one “good” rating, but it is actually getting worse. The Prius v only got a good mark when it was equipped with LED lights and high beam assist. And to get those particular headlights, a customer has to purchase the advanced technology pack, which is only available on the highest trim level. When it was equipped only with ordinary halogen lights and without high beam assist, the Prius will get a “poor” rating.

Here is the ranking of other cars tested with the best headlight system available for each model:


  • Audi A3, Honda Accord 4-Door, Infiniti Q50, Lexus ES, Lexus IS, Mazda6, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Outback, Volkswagen CC, Volkswagen Jetta and Volvo S60


  • Acura TLX, Audi A4, BMW 2 Series, BMW 3 Series, Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ, Subaru Legacy and Toyota Camry


  • Buick Verano, Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Malibu Limited, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Mercedes-Benz CLA, Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat

Among the headlight systems that received a low rating, the halogen lamps in the BMW 3 Series were rated the worst. A driver with these headlights would apparently have to drive at 35 mph or less to stop in time to avoid an obstacle in the traffic lane. The same car was tested with the LED curve adaptation system with high beam assist option and obtained a marginal rating.

BMW responded to these IIHS findings with the following statement to CBS News:

“The BMW Group has been an industry leader in innovation in headlight technology for more than four decades. BMW was the first to introduce ellipsoid projector headlights, electronic adaptive headlight technology, xenon headlights and, more recently, BMW Laser headlights. BMW was also the pioneer of night vision. systems capable of detecting animals and pedestrians far beyond the range of the best headlight systems.Although we are disappointed with the IIHS headlight test results of a BMW 3 Series equipped with basic halogen headlights, we remain convinced that we offer our customers highly efficient headlight systems at various price points. “

It seems that even though lighting technology has advanced considerably in recent years, automakers still have a long way to go before they can claim that their lighting systems are capable of ensuring the safety of all drivers at all times. time and in all conditions.

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