Several Midsize SUVs Receive Low Marks for Headlights
August 8th, 2017 by Wapner Newman
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced in June that of 37 new midsize SUVs it tested, only two had headlights with a “good” rating. IIHS assigns one of four ratings in its safety tests: good, acceptable, marginal, and poor.
IIHS engineers measured how much roadway is illuminated as vehicles travel straight and on curves. The only luxury SUV with a good rating – the Volvo XC60 – illuminated 315 feet of the straight road. The most poorly rated non-luxury SUV – the Kia Sorento – illuminated only 148 feet of the straight road. Senior researcher Matthew Brumbelow told CBS News, “So, when I say the Kia Sorento, 35 miles an hour is really about the fastest you should be driving with your low beams on.”
The IIHS says about half of fatal traffic accidents occur at night, dawn, and dusk, so good headlights are an important part of a car’s overall safety. But since IIHS began testing headlights in 2016, it has found most vehicles have inadequate headlights.
About Stopping Distance and Speed
The reason headlights are especially important on highways is that it takes much longer to stop, when traveling at a high speed, as the IIHS explains:
- Under ideal conditions, a driver reacts to an unexpected event/obstacle in 1.5 seconds.
- At 55 mph, a car travels 120 feet in 1.5 seconds.
- Once the driver brakes, the car will come to a stop at around 144 feet.
Based on those facts, the IIHS determined that of the midsize-car headlights it tested in 2016, 42 percent would not allow a driver, at 55 mph, to see an object in time to stop and avoid it.
Many cars come with multiple headlight options, so engineers evaluated all 82 options in its testing of 31 midsize cars last year. More than half of the cars received a poor rating, due to insufficient roadway illumination, excessive glare for oncoming cars, or for both factors. The Toyota Prius was the only car that received a good rating, but only when equipped with LED lights and high-beam assist, which are not part of the standard package. Its standard halogen headlights earned a poor rating.
In comparing the two types of Prius headlights, the IIHS said the LED lights would allow a driver traveling 70 mph to see an object on the right shoulder in time to stop and avoid a crash. A driver with the standard Prius headlights would have to be traveling 50 mph to avoid a crash. The BMW 3 series halogen headlights were the worst – a driver would be unable to avoid a roadway hazard if traveling more than 35 mph.
Some, but not all, headlights that are curve-adaptive have received higher ratings – the top-rated Volvo XC60 has this feature, which allows headlights to swivel in the direction of the steering wheel, to better illuminate curves. Adaptive high beams, currently illegal in the United States, could help prevent crashes. With these systems, the car constantly adjusts high beams to illuminate the road, but to block out any portion of light shining at oncoming cars.
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