Hyundai and Volvo have become the first vehicles to be awarded a “good” rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS) began testing the headlights of new vehicles in 2016. The results have been pretty disparaging to this point. The vast majority of vehicles have received a “poor” or “marginal” rating with respect to the efficacy of their headlights.
Among the trio groups tested to date – mid-size cars, small SUVs and pickups – not a single vehicle has received a “good” rating for its headlights.
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The IIHS has been including headlight test results in its overall safety ratings since the 2017 model year. The IIHS safety ratings are widely respected by both industry and consumers. They are based on Passive Safety – how well a vehicle protects occupants in a crash and Active Safety – features that help prevent a crash or lessen its severity. The dismal headlight ratings have been dragging down the overall safety rating.
Headlight results dragging down overall safety ratings
As a result, manufacturers have been reacted, making improvements, either through equipment changes or improved aiming procedures on the assembly line. The IIHS has noted this trend toward ensuring headlights play a larger role in traffic safety, The first clear evidence of this improvements comes in the latest round of tests. Mid-size SUVs have produced a pair of “good” ratings for Hyundai and Volvo.
The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe and the 2017 Volvo XC60 have become the first, among more than 100 vehicles tested, to earn a “good” headlight rating.
IIHS headlight tests are conducted as the vehicle travels straight ahead and on curves. Sensors measure how far the light travels “with an intensity of at least 5 lux”. Lux is a unit that measures how much light falls on a surface. IIHS says for comparison purposes, a full moon on clear night illuminates the ground to about one lux.
Both high and low beams are measured under five situations – straight, full left and right and sharp full left and right turns. Glare to oncoming vehicles from low beams is also measured and factored into the rating.
The majority of headlights use one of three different light sources: halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID) or LED. Each system is paired with either reflectors or projector lenses. Reflectors bounce the light forward from multiple surfaces. Projectors use a single lens to broadcast the light forward. Most of the good- and acceptable-rated headlight systems have HID -sourced light and projector lenses.
The IIHS points out “having LEDs, HIDs and/or projector lenses doesn’t guarantee good or acceptable performance”.
New technology does not guarantee better result
Adding further confusion and difficulty for consumers, is the fact headlight systems for the same vehicle can vary according to trim level. For example, within the 37 SUVs tested, the IIHS says there are 79 possible headlight combinations!
The most recent tests of 19 mid-size and 18 mid-size luxury SUVs showed 12 have headlights rated “acceptable” and 23 available with nothing other than “marginal” or “poor” headlights.
The Volvo XC60 earned its top rating thanks to optional curve-adaptive HID projector headlights. These lights turn with the steering wheel to help illuminate curves in the road. The same HID headlights on this Volvo can be equipped with high-beam assist, which automatically switches between high and low beams according to the presence of other vehicles. The IIHS gives extra credit for High-Beam assist.
Hyundai and Santa Fe do well
The curve-adapting feature does not ensure a better rating. The 2018 Kia Sorento was one of the worst mid-size SUVs in this test despite its curve-adaptive HID headlights. The IIHS says the projector low beams don’t provide adequate light on the straights, left hand turns and gradual right turns. For example the Sorento low beam illuminate only 45 metres on the right side of the road compared to the Volvo’s 96 metres.
The Ford Edge was another that didn’t fare well. Whether equipped with base halogen or optional HID projector lights, both high and the low beams provided inadequate illumination in all five tests. The halogen low beams also produce unacceptable glare into oncoming traffic.
The IIHS found that more than half of the 79 headlights tested had excessive glare. That alone accounted for the “poor” rating in 17 cases. The IIHS says managing glare is more difficult for higher vehicles like pickups and tall SUVs. The Hyundai and Volvo models awarded a “good” rating have addressed that issue.
Best available headlight system for each model
2017 models unless specified
2018 Audi Q5
Hyundai Santa Fe
Jeep Grand Cherokee
2018 Chevrolet Equinox
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport