Your Car’s Headlights May Not Be Lighting the Way

Visibility Ratings Not So Bright

While driving at night along one of North Texas’s residential streets or deserted country roads at night, obstacles can seemingly appear out of nowhere — an animal, a bicyclist, a jogger or a fallen tree limb — forcing you to swerve or slam on the brakes.

You may have felt at times like your eyes were going bad. After reading this study, you may now realize that your eyes are not the problem.

Your headlights should allow you to spot an obstacle in plenty of time to slow, stop or maneuver safely. Instead, your headlights may not be lighting the way.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted a recent study of vehicular headlights, and the results were enlightening:

  • IIHS rated the 82 possible combinations of headlights on 31 midsize cars.
  • Only the Toyota Prius v earned a good rating.
  • 11 vehicles were rated “acceptable.”
  • 9 cars received “marginal” ratings.
  • 10 cars only came with poor-rated headlights.

Even the Prius rating comes with a catch. Prius owners had to purchase the advanced technology package that included the highly rated LED lights and high-beam assist to achieve optimal visibility. Otherwise, the Prius comes equipped with the poorly rated halogen lights and without high-beam assist that provides substandard visibility.

Good Headlights Should Be Standard Safety Equipment.

Being able to see is a fundamental aspect to safe driving, and so headlights should be on the top of the list of safety equipment. After all, more than 32,000 traffic deaths in 2015 occurred during low visibility times, at night and during dawn and dusk. Nighttime crashes equal about one-half of all accident fatalities. Decent lighting could make a huge dent in the high number of nighttime accidents.

Much is made about the effectiveness of airbags, seat belts, braking systems and other important automotive safety features. But, headlights have rarely attracted much notice. 

An IIHS senior research engineer explained the difference between good and poor headlights. A motorist driving on a straight road at 70 mph has enough time to spot an obstacle, brake and fully stop if her or his car is equipped with LED low beams. However, a motorist relying upon halogen lights would have to drive 20 mph slower to avoid hitting the obstacle. 

How Do Your Headlights Rate? 

Multiple factors and combinations of lighting options complicate headlight ratings. Researchers had to consider the type of bulb, lens and reflector and how the light was mounted. Just increasing the brightness of the bulb might not increase visibility. 

Before buying a car, review the IIHS headlight ratings and ask the dealer for specifics about the headlights, as well as the other important safety features.

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