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Headlight Issues Got Carmakers Slapped by the IIHS in 2020

Having peace of mind that you and your passengers are safe is priceless. And with increasing technology, manufacturers are making their cars safer with every model year. Aside from employing advanced safety features and driver assistance technology, brands are also making fundamental features such as airbags more effective. But one aspect of car safety that’s sometimes overlooked is headlights.

Here’s how the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is pushing manufacturers to make safer and more effective headlights.

Why are headlights so important to car safety?

Dim, poorly designed, excessively bright, or badly aimed headlights pose a safety risk, U.S. News reports. According to the IIHS, around 50 percent of all traffic deaths happen in the dark or around dusk or dawn. So proper illumination on the road is crucial. IIHS explains that improper visibility of a car’s surroundings can further hamper driver reaction time, leading to potentially deadly accidents. 

In addition to visibility, glare is also another big factor in headlight safety. If a vehicle’s headlamps aren’t aimed properly, they could cause a glare that blinds other drivers. This could lead to dangerous situations for the driver and surrounding motorists. One IIHS study shows that headlight visibility and glare vary widely.  

How does the IIHS evaluate headlights? 

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The IIHS rates headlights based on two criteria: visibility and glare. For visibility, headlights with a good rating illuminate the road’s right side by at least 325 feet. Those with a poor rating illuminate only the right side of the road by 220 feet or less. The IIHS also deducts points when headlights temporarily blind other drivers. 

Also, features such as adaptive headlights considerably bolster safety because many drivers don’t use their high-beams at the right time. So the IIHS rewards vehicles with that feature. The IIHS also awards bonus points to vehicles with high-beam assist, adaptive driving beam, and curve-adaptive headlights.

How the IIHS is pushing carmakers to do better 

The IIHS is a nonprofit founded in 1959 and funded by auto insurance companies. It first attempted to encourage better headlights by introducing a new rating system in 2016. However, with only two of the 95 tested models receiving a good rating, the IIHS realized it had more work to do. So the following year, it added headlights to the criteria for its Top Safety Pick+ awards. This new requirement meant many vehicles fell short.

But carmakers have caught on. And for the 2021 model year so far, 10 models have won Top Safety Pick+ by eliminating ineffective headlights.

Which carmakers are stepping up?

According to the IIHS, the new Audi A7, Honda Accord, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Altima, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volvo S60, Volvo XC40, and Volvo XC60 now offer effective headlights. The organization awarded all of those models Top Safety Pick+ for fixing their poor or marginal headlamps. 

And BMW improved its 2021 5 Series by eliminating headlights the IIHS had rated marginal. Plus, the Acura RDX, Subaru Forester, Subaru Legacy, and Subaru Outback won Top Safety Pick+ for their 2020 models.

By encouraging automakers to improve their headlights, the IIHS is effectively promoting car safety.