Can’t see at night? It’s the headlights, not your eyes

Staff reports
Farm Forum

Most drivers don’t give a second thought to our headlights and just assume they are all pretty much alike. But if you find it difficult to see at night, then it could be you are taking the headlights for granted.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted its first headlight test. The organization, funded by the insurance industry, called the results “dismal.”

That is because, out of 31 midsize cars in this first testing round, only the Toyota Prius v is available with a headlight system that earned the highest rating of Good. The best available headlights on 11 cars earned an Acceptable, nine earned a Marginal rating and 10 of the vehicles tested have headlights with the lowest rating of Poor.

Because vehicles come with trim levels that come with different headlight systems, there are a total of 82 headlight ratings for the 31 2016 models.

Although the Prius v earned the Good rating for its LED lights and high-beam assist, which senses the presence of an oncoming vehicle and automatically switches between high and low beams, the regular halogen lights without high-beam assist earned a Poor rating.

And don’t assume that more expensive vehicles have the best headlights, since many headlight systems rated Poor come on luxury models. The BMW 3 Series with halogen lights, for example, had the lowest-scoring headlights. Its system with LED curve-adaptive lights with high-beam assist, got a Marginal rating. No BMW can be bought with a better-rated system.

The insurance institute noted that government standards for headlights, which are based on laboratory tests, allow for a huge variation in how much illumination they emit in on-the-road driving. Because about half of traffic deaths occur either at dusk, dark or dawn, better headlights could help reduce fatalities, the insurance institute noted.

The institute developed the new tests because of changes in technology. High-intensity discharge (HID) or LED lamps have replaced halogen in many vehicles; curve-adaptive headlights are becoming more common and research shows they are improving visibility and reducing crashes.

However, those features don’t necessarily guarantee good headlight performance. The systems on the Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima and Mercedes-Benz C-Class all earned Poor ratings, even though they had curve-adaptive low and high beams.

Engineers at the insurance institute developed a rating system that doesn’t favor one type of technology over another; it rates systems that provide ample illumination without causing excessive glare for oncoming drivers. Glare is measured from low beams to make sure it isn’t excessive. And the headlights are tested as they are on the vehicles that came from the dealer. They didn’t change the aim because very few owners do and some manufacturers advise consumers not to.

Insurance institute engineers said that manufacturers should pay attention and make sure headlights are aimed consistently and properly at the factory, instead of shifting the burden to the consumer.

Vehicles that can’t be purchased with a system any better than Acceptable are the Audi A3, Honda Accord, Infiniti Q50, Lexus ES and IS, Mazda6, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Outback (built after Nov. 2015), Volkswagen CC and Jetta, and Volvo S60.

Vehicles that can’t be purchased with a system better than Marginal are the Acura TLX, Audi A4, BMW 2 Series and 3 Series, Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ, Subaru Legacy and Toyota Camry.

Those that can’t be purchased with a system better than Poor are the Buick Verano, Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Limited (fleet model), Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and CLA, Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat.

Keep in mind, one thing all drivers can do to improve night-time visibility in any vehicle is to use the high beams when no oncoming traffic is approaching.