The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released its first-ever headlights rating report, ranking the effectiveness of headlights on 31 newer model cars. Only the Toyota Prius earned a good rating, suggesting that dimmed headlights are a major problem on American roads. Although only 31 vehicles were tested, they came with a range of headline options, meaning that 82 different headlight setups were tested. Still, only one of these managed a good rating.
Eleven of the tested cars gained an acceptable rating (with the best headlight option selected), but being a luxury vehicle had no impact on how good the headlights were, with the BMW 3 series raking a dismal last. Nine of the vehicles achieved a marginal rating, while ten vehicles were actually rated poor.
The ability to have clear lines of sight and good lighting are huge factors in avoiding accidents. Although drivers assume that headlight technology has evolved rapidly along with other areas of the car, that’s not necessarily the case. The government standards for headlights grant automakers huge variation in how much illumination headlights provide in on-road conditions. Nearly half of all traffic deaths happen during dawn, dusk or in the dark. IIHS believes that enhanced headlights could potentially dramatically reduce the number of fatalities.
Why the Prius Got the Top Rating
Why did the Prius score so much higher than other cars? Its rating was on the version equipped with LED lights and high-beam assist. Unfortunately, getting those lights is an upgrade requiring people to purchase the advanced technology package. This is only available to drivers on the highest trim level. If drivers have a Prius with the standard halogen lights without high-beam assist, Prius achieves a poor rating like most other cars.
“The Prius v’s LED low beams should give a driver traveling straight at 70 mph enough time to identify an obstacle on the right side of the road, where the light is best, and brake to a stop,” said IIHS senior research engineer Matthew Brumbelow. “In contrast, someone with the halogen lights would need to drive 20 mph slower in order to avoid a crash.”
The Poor Rating of the BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 series and 43 other cars earned a poor rating, with the BMW at the very bottom of the list. The halogen lights on the 3 series make it difficult to see very far in the dark. A BMW 3 series driver with halogen headlights would have to be crawling at 35 mph or slower in order to stop in time to avoid an obstacle in the travel lane. The IIHS recommended drivers consider the upgrade to the BMW 3 series – the LED curve-adaptive system with high-beam assist that at least rates marginal.
However, beware thinking that curve-adaptive systems are the key to better ratings. Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS and Kia Optima have optional adaptive low and high beam headlights. However, in the Optima, glare is so excessive that it produced dangerous level sight problems for oncoming vehicles during all five low beam approaches.
New Technology Doesn’t Include Better Headlights
Most significantly for carmakers, the IIHS found that none of the best headlight systems used new technology. The Honda 4-door Accord got an acceptable rating with just its basic halogen lights, while upgrading to an LED system with high-beam assist on the same Accord only earned a marginal rating.
Best available headlight system for 2016 midsize cars tested by IIHS