Trouble Seeing the Road at Night? Your Headlights May Be to Blame
Most car headlights fall short in new safety tests
Do you find yourself squinting at night behind the wheel, wishing you could see better? Your headlights may be to blame.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently conducted its first-ever safety rating test on vehicle headlights, and the results shed light on what appears to be a real safety issue. Out of more than 30 midsize cars, only one got a "good" rating for headlights. Eleven were "acceptable," nine were "marginal" and 10 were "poor."
Related: 12 Tips for Safer Nighttime Driving
With about half of traffic deaths occurring in the dark (or at dawn or dusk), good headlights have the potential to reduce fatalities, the IIHS says.
But before you get ready to drop big bucks on a fancy new car that boasts better beams, know this: Many of the poor-rated headlights belong to luxury vehicles, the IIHS says.
Yes, some new vehicles have “curve-adaptive” headlights, which turn with your car and light the way around corners. And in other cars, manufacturers have steered away from halogen lights in favor of high-intensity discharge (HID) or LED lamps. While the IIHS says research shows these new lights do have safety advantages, they don’t guarantee good performance. Instead, the IIHS values headlights that “produce ample illumination without excessive glare for drivers of oncoming vehicles.”
How headlights are tested
The IIHS evaluates headlights after dark using a device that measures light coming from both low and high beams. The light is measured as the vehicle drives straight, around sharp curves and around gradual ones.
After the test, engineers compare visibility and glare measurements to that of an ideal headlight system, IIHS says. Results for low beam performance are weighed more heavily, as they’re used more often. And cars with high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high and low beams depending on how many cars are nearby, may get bonus points. But any vehicle with excessive glare can't earn a rating above marginal, according to IIHS.
The headlights are tested just as they’re received from the dealer, IIHS says. Though headlights can be adjusted vertically on most vehicles, few consumers make that adjustment, IIHS says.
"Many headlight problems could be fixed with better aim," IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow said in a press release. "This is simple enough to adjust on many vehicles, but the burden shouldn't fall on the consumer to figure out what the best aim is. Manufacturers need to pay attention to this issue to make sure headlights are aimed consistently and correctly at the factory."
If you feel like your headlights aren’t quite doing their job, have a mechanic take a look to see if the aim needs adjusting.
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