Insurance Group Says Most Small SUVs Have Poor Headlights

July 12, 2016 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Automakers need to improve headlights in a large group of small sport-utility vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Not a single vehicle out of 21 tested by the insurance industry trade group earned a good rating for how far headlights illuminate the road on both straightaways and curves, and for how much glare is produced for oncoming drivers.

“Manufacturers aren’t paying enough attention to the actual on-road performance of this basic equipment,” said Matthew Brumbelow, an institute research engineer. “We’re optimistic that improvements will come quickly now that we’ve given automakers something to strive for.”

Improving headlights is a priority for the insurance trade group. It said about half of traffic deaths happen in the dark or in dawn or dusk conditions. Better headlights should reduce those fatalities.

Seventeen of the vehicle headlight systems have unacceptable glare, the group said.

“Glare issues are usually a result of poorly aimed headlights,” Brumbelow said. “SUV headlights are mounted higher than car headlights, so they generally should be aimed lower. Instead, many of them are aimed higher than the car headlights we’ve tested so far.”

IIHS next plans to conduct headlight tests on pickup trucks, which because of their stature could have a similar problem.

While some studies indicate that advanced lighting systems do a better job, the IIHS research did not rate one type of technology — halogen, high-intensity discharge and light-emitting diode — over the other. Rather the group measured the amount of usable light provided by low beams and high beams as the test vehicles drove at night or in low light conditions, regardless of the headlight systems.

However, the institute did give a higher rating to vehicles equipped with high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high and low beams based on the presence of other vehicles.

The Mazda CX-3, when equipped with curve-adaptive LED lights with optional high beam assist, did the best, although it still only earned an “acceptable” rating.

“The low beams perform well on both right curves and fairly well on the straightaway and sharp left curve; however, they provide inadequate light on the gradual left curve. The high beams perform well on most approaches,” the institute said in its report.

The Ford escape (2017 model only,) Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson also earned acceptable ratings.

Vehicles earning a “marginal” rating included: BMW X1, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan and Mitsubishi Outlander.

Those ranking “poor” were: Audi Q3,
Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Patriot, Jeep Renegade,
Jeep Wrangler,
Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Rogue
and Subaru Forester.

For 2017, vehicles will need good or acceptable headlights in order to qualify for the Institute’s highest award, “Top Safety Pick+.”


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