IIHS says most cars need better headlights


When seeing at night becomes difficult, many people blame their own eyes. But car headlights may really be the problem, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which just released its first-ever headlight ratings.

Headlights are getting more advanced, with LEDs and other new features going mainstream, and even more advanced technologies cropping up outside the U.S. But right now, the majority of car headlights don't seem to be very good, says the IIHS. It tested 82 lighting systems across 31 vehicles from the 2016 model year, from both mainstream and luxury brands, but only one received the top "good" rating.

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That was the 2016 Toyota Prius V, probably marking the first time this hybrid wagon has won anything definitively. However, the good rating only applies to the optional LED system with high-beam assist, which is part of a package on the highest trim level. The base Prius V with halogen headlights and no high-beam assist got the worst rating, "poor." With LED lights, researchers said a Prius V driver would be able to identify obstacles at 70 mph and have enough time to brake and avoid a crash, but they'd have to be driving 20 mph slower with the halogen lights to do the same.

That's not to say a car needs the most high-tech lighting system available to do well. In the case of the Honda Accord sedan, the base halogen lights earned an "acceptable" rating, while the optional LED system with high-beam assist only scored a "marginal." Curve-adaptive systems that swivel the headlights in corners didn't make much of a difference either; the Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class all received poor ratings even with that feature.

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To rate cars, the IIHS tested them on its own track (after dark, of course) and used a device to measure light from both high and low beams in five different situations: traveling straight, a sharp left curve, sharp right curve, a gradual left curve, and gradual right curve. It also measured glare from the low beams in each scenario.

The results were then compared to a theoretical ideal lighting system. Results for low beams were weighed more heavily because drivers use them more, and results for the straight sections of road were weighed more heavily than the curved sections, because more crashes occur on straightaways.

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