Products Liability Law Daily IIHS report shines light on headlight disparities
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Thursday, November 29, 2018

IIHS report shines light on headlight disparities

By Colleen Kave, J.D.

In an evaluation of the headlights on 2018 model vehicles, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that just over half of the vehicles are available with headlights that do an adequate job of lighting the road at night and limiting glare for oncoming drivers. Moreover, most good-rated headlights are optional or bundled with features that can raise the price of the vehicle. IIHS is currently evaluating headlights on contenders for its 2019 Top Safety Pick+ and Top Safety Pick awards, which will be announced in December (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety News Release, November 29, 2018).

Headlights, IIHS asserts, are essential crash avoidance technology. About half of all fatal crashes in the U.S. occur in the dark, and more than a quarter occur on unlit roads. Headlights have an obvious role to play in preventing nighttime crashes, but not all headlights perform their job equally. Differences in light source, headlight technology, and how the lights are aimed all affect the amount of useful light supplied. In IIHS evaluations, engineers measure the reach of a vehicle’s headlights both on straightaways and curves. Each rating provides information on the amount of visibility provided by low beams and high beams, and whether the glare produced for other drivers is excessive. Low beams are weighted more heavily than high beams because they are used more often.

IIHS released its first headlight ratings for passenger vehicles in 2016. At that time, only two of 95 headlight systems on 2016-model vehicles that the institute rated earned a "good" rating. Since then, most auto manufacturers have been focusing on improving this key safety component. Nonetheless, of the 424 headlight variants on 2018 models evaluated by IIHS engineers, 67 percent earned a "marginal" or "poor" rating due to inadequate visibility, excessive glare from low beams for oncoming drivers, or both. Access to highly-rated headlight technology is also an obstacle for some consumers, as bundling such advanced safety features with things like leather seats and entertainment packages is a common industry practice that can add thousands of dollars to the price of a new vehicle.

As an example, the Institute mentions that the best available headlights on the Kia Soul earn a good rating, but in order to get them, consumers must buy a $3,000 or $6,000 options package on one of the manufacturer’s top two trim lines. Consequently, the small car's price is pushed to nearly $26,000, compared with a base model price of about $16,000 and poor-rated headlights.

According to David Aylor, the manager of active safety testing at IIHS, "In the past two years, manufacturers have made changes to improve headlights, whether through better aim or the light source itself. But we still see a lot of models where the base headlight is poor, so buyers really have to do their homework to make sure they are getting the best available headlights."

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