IIHS: Headlights improving, but you'll pay for better tech

December 3, 2018

More new vehicles than ever offer headlights that create safer situations at night, but the IIHS found consumers will often have to pay more better visibility.

A study from the insurance industry-funded independent safety body found 32 new cars and trucks offer "Good" headlights as the best-available units. Further, 58 models offer "Acceptable" units as the best available. The most worrisome statistics is the number of cars that offer "Poor" headlights as the only option, though. The IIHS found 43 models only offer "Marginal" or "Poor" headlights as their best-available lighting option.

And by best-available option, it means strong-performing lights aren't even offered. Buyers looking for the best headlights as standard equipment will need to narrow their list down to the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Camry, Genesis G80, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Critically, vehicles must have "Good" headlights to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award, and at least "Acceptable"-rated units to earn a Top Safety Pick award.

CHECK OUT: IIHS: SUV, crossover headlights generally perform poorly

A number of brands offer good or acceptable headlights, but the technology is often bundled with other packages, which price the safety equipment out of reach for many car buyers. The IIHS used the Hyundai Kona as an example. The subcompact crossover SUV is equipped with "Poor" halogen headlights in SE and SEL trims, but the LED headlights that are included with the Ultimate and Limited trims rated "Good." The IIHS found that the LED lights illuminated a straight piece of road for 405 feet, while the halogen lights lit only 220 feet. The distance could make the difference between a safe trip home and a wreck, as the better lights highlight wild animals and pedestrians from further back.

A Kia Soul with good-rated lights costs about $26,000, versus a $16,000 model with poor-rated lights.

Still, 43 models only offer poor or marginal headlights as the only option, and they include some of the best-selling vehicles in the United States. Notably, the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado, the two highest-selling vehicles in the U.S., earn poor ratings. In general, U.S. automakers fair worse than imported brands, too. Numerous Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles vehicles only offer poor headlights.

READ THIS: US to allow brighter, self-dimming headlights on new cars

However, the story will likely change in the near future. The NHTSA has officially filed to permit brighter, self-dimming headlights in the U.S. The technology has been implemented around the world for years, but outdated regulations have kept adaptive lights that can change their light pattern automatically out of the U.S. market. Future models will be able to run the high beams automatically and dim specific portions of the light to keep from blinding other drivers and pedestrians.

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