Headlights: Essential but Neglected?
Can there be another part of your car that you think about less than your headlights? Let’s face it, headlights aren’t sexy. But they are essential to keeping us alive when we drive in the dark and during storms.
Headlights have been basic equipment on passenger vehicles for over 100 years. They started out as fuel-powered, but quickly moved to electricity. Despite technological advances, a significant chunk of headlights are rated poorly. Such a finding should breed caution the next time you are driving after dark.
The Components of a Modern Headlight
Today, headlights, like a lot of other items on our vehicles, are high-tech. The old bulbs some of us remember are gone. Currently, headlights generally have one of the following light sources:
- HID: high-intensity discharge
- LED: light-emitting diode
Either projector lenses or reflectors are combined with one of these light sources to increase a headlights’ useful range. The projector lens dispenses the light, while the reflector “bounces” the light’s rays forward.
The Findings from the IIHS’s Tests
The headlights on a number of passenger vehicle makes and models were tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 2017 results weren’t nearly as good as anyone had hoped for—a large number of vehicles’ headlights ranked either “poor” or “marginal” in terms of their effectiveness. These ratings are the two lowest out of the four that the IIHS uses. For midsized SUVs, the details were as follows:
- Headlights rated “poor” or “marginal”—23 vehicles. Two of the worst performers were the Kia Sorento and Ford Edge.
- Headlights rated “acceptable”—12 vehicles.
- Headlights rated “good”—2 vehicles: the 2017 Volvo XC60 and the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe.
- Of the 79 headlight variants tested, more than half produced too much glare.
All headlights rated “acceptable” or “good” utilized projector lenses, and three of the headlight variants rated “good” employed the HID light source. However, not enough information exists to state that all projector lenses or all HID headlights will always translate into good lighting for driving.
Other IIHS headlight tests for groups of vehicles other than midsized SUVs had the following results:
- Small SUVs: The headlights of two-thirds (21 makes and models) of those tested rated “poor,” including the Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Rogue, and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.
- Midsized cars: 10 makes and models rated “poor,” including the Buick Verano, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Hyundai Sonata.
- Pickup trucks: Three that tested as “poor” were the Ford F-150, GMC Canyon, and Toyota Tundra.
Why are the ratings so important beyond the obvious safety considerations? The reason is, very few of us buy, or test-drive, a vehicle at night. The IIHS ratings can help consumers when it comes to selecting the best vehicle for them.
Nighttime Crashes and Your Headlights
Poor lighting can be one cause of nighttime accidents, but few of us consider that a vehicle’s headlights could be at fault when a crash occurs. And yet, in this country, we average approximately 2,500 nighttime pedestrian deaths. Undoubtedly, some of these fatalities occur because the driver cannot see the pedestrian. Headlights that do not illuminate the road properly could certainly make the risk of hitting a pedestrian higher. Matt Brumbelow, an IIHS Senior Research Engineer, declared that, “We continue to see headlights that compromise safety because they only provide a short view down the road at night.”
Better headlights are out there, but as of yet they aren’t available in the U.S.; federal rules block the use of adaptive-beam headlights. This technology reduces glare because adaptive-beam headlights adjust automatically to the headlights of oncoming vehicles. However, changes to the rules that would allow adaptive-beam headlights are under consideration by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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