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Safe Driving at Night Requires the Best Available Headlight System

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) describes itself as “an independent, non-profit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries, and property damage — from crashes on the nation’s roads.” Wholly supported by auto insurers and insurance associations, IIHS, since its founding in 1959, has been “a leader in finding out what works and doesn’t work to prevent motor vehicle crashes from happening in the first place and to minimize injuries in the crashes that still occur.”

In 1992, IIHS opened its Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Virginia, a state-of-the-art facility for vehicle safety testing. …And the latest from this facility, released March 30th, 2016—the first ever rating of headlights—is worthy of note. Of the 31 mid-size cars tested with their various 82 headlight package combinations, only 1 was rated Good, while 11, 9 and 10 were ranked, respectively, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor.

The winner was Toyota’s Prius v when equipped with LED lights and high-beam assist, which is the advanced technology package only available on the highest trim level. When equipped with regular halogen lights and without high-beam assist, however, the Prius v earned a poor rating.

Luxury and marque status were no barrier to poor ratings. The worst performer was said to be the BMW 3 series with halogen lights. As the study notes, “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.” It went on to say, “A better choice for the same car is an LED curve-adaptive system with high-beam assist [but this] combination … rates [only] marginal.”

Acura, Audi, Lincoln, Buick, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, to mention only a few, were all, in the opinions expressed in the study, in the marginal and poor categories. Equipment wasn’t the sole issue, and as the report notes “The Institute’s headlight rating system doesn’t favor one lighting technology over the other, but simply rewards systems that produce ample illumination without excessive glare for drivers of oncoming vehicles.”

Readers are encouraged to read the press release detailing the IIHS evaluation system, and its ratings list based on the best available headlight system for each model online at http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/first-ever-iihs-headlight-ratings-show-most-need-improvement .

Sufficient illumination and moderate, non-excessive glare from headlights, is no small matter. Obviously, styling cannot be the main consideration. The study notes that about half of traffic deaths occur either in the dark or in dawn or dusk conditions, meaning improved headlights may have the potential to bring about substantial reductions in fatalities.

This study has also highlighted a suggested lag in government regulation of ongoing illumination and glare. Despite all the new ‘advanced’ lighting technologies, the regulations have reportedly remained unchanged for decades.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has responded to this report saying its proposed overhaul of its five-star safety ratings will depend partly on vehicles’ use of lower-beam headlights, semiautomatic beam switching and amber rear turn signal lights —technologies designed to improve visibility for the driver and for other motorists. NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas was quoted as saying, “Basically we agree headlights can and should be stronger.”

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