Why more vehicles have better headlights

Headlights continue to grow in sophistication. Pictured here is Audi’s matrix system.

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that 90 out of 165 2018 model vehicles have earned either a “good” or “acceptable” rating for their best-available headlights. Of those, 32 earned the highest rating of “good,” while 58 were rated “acceptable.”

However, 75 models earned either “marginal” or “poor” ratings, showing there is still a significant number of vehicles that need better headlights.

“The key takeaway is that we have seen some improvements since we first started testing in 2016, but we still have a lot of ‘marginal’- or ‘poor’-rated headlights, and even the ‘good’-rated headlights are much more expensive for the consumer,” David Aylor, manager of active safety testing at IIHS, told Automotive News on Tuesday. “We really think that this is a feature that consumers shouldn’t have to pay a premium for.”

Engineers at IIHS measure how far light is projected from the low beams as well as high beams as the vehicle drives straight and around curves. Another factor is making sure that low beams aren’t creating excessive glare for oncoming drivers.

According to IIHS, out of 424 headlight variants on 2018 models, 67 percent earned a “marginal” or “poor” rating because they provided either inadequate visibility for drivers or low beams provided a distracting glare for oncoming drivers, sometimes even both.

The Genesis G90 and the Lexus NX, for example, are the only 2018 models that come with “good” headlights, no matter the trim line or options package. Similarly, the best-available headlights on the Chevrolet Volt, Genesis G80, Mercedes Benz E class and Toyota Camry are rated “good,” with the lowest earning an “acceptable” rating, said IIHS.

In addition, Aylor said another concern is that a lot of “good” headlights only come with optional packages or with an upgraded trim, which can often cost the consumer a significant amount of money. Although the Kia Soul earned a “good” rating for its best-available headlights, consumers must pay anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 for a package on one of the top two trim lines to get them, according to IIHS.

Aylor also said that pickups are a challenge because their headlights are mounted higher, making it difficult for drivers to illuminate light far enough down the road without providing a glare to oncoming drivers.

According to IIHS, the Honda Ridgeline is the only pickup with available “good” headlights. However, consumers must pay an additional $12,000 to receive them because they are not provided with the base model. Similarly, “poor” headlights are the only ones available on the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and Nissan Frontier.

Photo credit: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

In 2017, IIHS found that headlights in midsize crossovers or SUVs and pickups were among the worst, giving “good” or “acceptable” ratings to just 14 of 37 midsize crossover or SUV models and leaving 23 models in the “marginal or “poor” ranges, according to a previous report.

“In general, pickup trucks struggle with the test because the headlight mounting height is higher,” said Aylor. “Some midsize SUVs are performing better, but trucks are not doing as well as we’d like in the 2018 models.”

He said he is seeing improvements as more vehicles are being manufactured with high-beam assist, which is a technology that automatically switches between low and high beams based on the presence of other vehicles. He also said a lot of automakers have improved how well headlights are aimed, which helps them illuminate farther down the road.

“We’ve seen some improvements over the last three years. For instance, last year, we had about 27 vehicle models with “good”-rated headlights, but only two out of 95 vehicles we evaluated had “good” headlights available,” said Aylor. “So, we’ve seen some improvement, but there is still a very high number of “marginal”- or “poor”-rated headlights.”

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