Small SUV Headlights Rate Poorly By IIHS


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently performed a series of headlight evaluations in which none of the 21 types of small SUVs tested received a good rating.  Only four of the 21 vehicles were determined to have acceptable headlights.  The 21 vehicles have a total of 47 different headlight combinations available.  However, two-thirds of these headlights have been rated poor.  The performance of this set of vehicles is even worse in regards to vehicle lighting than the midsize cars that were first to be rated earlier this year.

The government standards for headlight performance are based on tests performed in laboratories, which poses a problem as these tests to do not accurately depict headlight function in real-world driving.  Yet, it has been found that about half of traffic deaths occur at times when additional light is need, i.e. at night or during dusk or dawn.  In the IIHS evaluations of midsize cars earlier this year, it was found that pricier vehicles did not correlate with better headlight quality.  Modern headlight technology, including high-intensity discharge (HID), LED lamps, and curve-adaptive systems, also has not been proven to be more effective as lighting systems.  IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow made a statement, saying “Manufacturers aren’t paying enough attention to actual on-road performance of this basic equipment.”  He goes on to say that they are optimistic that auto manufacturers will quickly change the headlight technology on their vehicles after this recent underwhelming headlight evaluation report.  Looking ahead to 2017, vehicles will need headlight ratings of good or acceptable in order to qualify for the TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

The IIHS headlight rating system doesn’t discriminate between headlight technologies.  Although some studies have shown certain benefits for more advanced and modern lighting systems, the government rating system only measures the amount of usable light in the laboratory tests.  IIHS engineers use the Vehicle Research Center’s track after dark to test the headlights of vehicles.  Vehicles travel around the track using five different approaches: traveling straight, a sharp left curve, a sharp right curve, a gradual left curve and a gradual right curve.  A special device is used to measure the amount of light projected from both low beams and high beams of the vehicles when completing all five approaches.  Additionally, the glare from low beams for approaching drivers is measured.  A maximum score of marginal can be earned for vehicles determined to have excessive glare.  The only particular technology that has been applauded by the IIHS is high-beam assist, a feature that automatically switches between high and low beams depending on if there are oncoming vehicles present.  Because this feature is expected to decrease the overuse of high beams, vehicles can receive bonus points for having this technology. 

Of the 21 vehicles included in the small SUV group that was recently evaluated, the Mazda CX-3 had the best performing headlights.  The Ford Escape, the Hondo CR-V and the Hyundai Tucson were determined to have acceptable headlights.  The worst vehicle in the group was a new Honda model, the HR-V.  In this model, its halogen low beams and high beams were found inadequate on all five types of approaches.  Additionally, this model can only be purchased with the poor rated headlights.  Regarding the models that were higher-rated, there are multiple options for headlights, so consumers need to be cautious when purchasing these vehicles to assure they are receiving the acceptable-rated headlights rather than the poor-rated ones.  The IIHS is expected to evaluate the headlights of pickup trucks next.

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