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A Study Raises Concerns About the Effectiveness of Car Headlights

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Shalini Shah1 year ago

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an organization which evaluates automotive safety, has released an analysis of headlights of cars. It found that many luxury model cars are not doing a good job of helping drivers see down the road in the dark.

About the Headlight Study

Fox News reports that 32,000 traffic deaths occurred last year and about half of them happened at night or during dawn and dusk when visibility is lower. To better understand how effective headlights in low visibility settings, researchers reviewed the beams of 30 midsize cars.

With a special device, they measured the light from both low beams and high beams as vehicles where driven on five different approaches:

  1. Straight
  2. Sharp Left Curve
  3. Sharp Right Curve
  4. Gradual Left Curve
  5. Gradual Right Curve

Among the 30 midsized car models, only the top trim level Toyota Prius V received a grade of good. Then, of the rest, about one-third were rated acceptable, one-third marginal, and one-third were poor.

The difference among these ratings from good to poor substantially affects the driver’s ability to see down a road at night.

Breakdown by Vehicle Model

On a straight roadway, the Prius V’s LED headlights were sufficient enough for a driver to to see a pedestrian, bicyclist, or obstacle within 387 feet.  At this distance, the vehicle could be travelling up to 70mph and still have sufficient time to stop.

On the other hand, the BMW 3 series, which was considered among the least efficient models, was only able to illuminate 128 feet ahead. This means that even if the car was traveling at 35 mph, it still would not have time to stop for a pedestrian or obstacle.

This huge performance gap is due to the fact that there’s a lot more to how well headlights help drivers see than just the brightness of the bulb or the type of bulb utilized.  A same light build can give a different amount of visibility down the road depending on the reflector or lens it is paired with.

Implications of the Study

One major implication is that consumers should not expect better headlight just because they purchased a more expensive vehicle or added on an expensive package.

For example, halogen headlights in the affordably priced base model of a Honda Accord earned an acceptable rating while halogen and LED headlights in two expensive Mercedes-Benz models were rated poor.

Thus, price is not a reliable basis to expect that the vehicle will provide the best and safest visibility.

Government standards of measuring the performance of headlights have basically remained unchanged since the 1960s. In these standards, they measure the light coming out of the light source and do not look at how the light is projected on the road.

The institute hopes this research will improve standards and encourage automakers to make better headlights. 


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