Night Blindness Tests Suggest Your Headlights May Be to Blame


July 23, 2016

Driving at night is widely considered to be more dangerous than driving during the day. While a number of factors contribute to the increased hazards of nighttime driving, visibility is chief among them. Our headlights are intended to allow us to see adequately at night so that we can safely navigate to our destination, but a new study suggests that headlights of today may not be performing to the specification necessary to keep us safe.

Your Headlights Might Need Improvement

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently evaluated the headlights on a number of popular American vehicles. Headlights were tested after dark at the IIHS Vehicle Research Center. The Institute used a special device to measure the light from low and high beams as the vehicle traveled from several different approaches, including straight, sharp turns, and gradual turns in both directions. These results were then compared to the hypothetical ideal headlight system and ratings.

Overall, the headlights on all vehicles rated less than ideal. Thirty-one vehicles were tested, but such vehicles can be equipped with different headlights. In total, 82 headlights were tested. In the small SUV category, even the best headlights barely received passing grades. Twenty-one vehicles were tested, and just the Ford Escape (2017), Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, and the Mazda CX-3 were deemed "Acceptable." The midsize cars fared slightly better, with the Toyota Prius V receiving the highest rating of "Good." This rating specifically involved the Prius V equipped with LED lights and high-beam assist, including with the advanced technology package. Two-thirds of the remaining cars were rated marginal or worse.

One of the reasons behind the shortcomings found in so many headlights on even new cars is the federal standards. The federal standard for headlights took effect in 1968 and, while some revisions have been made, the testing procedure has changed little. The government continues to test headlights in laboratory settings and not on actual vehicles at night, or on winding roads. Standards also fail to specify how far headlights must illuminate. Consequently, many are calling for standards to change and adapt to current technology, but altering federal standards is a complex and lengthy process that can take years.

Use Caution While Driving at Night

Since it may be some time before automakers change their headlight standards, there are steps you can take to protect yourself at night. First, recognize the limitations of your headlights. When traveling on dark roads without many street lights, use your high beams to illuminate the road ahead. Drive slower in the dark to allow yourself more time to stop in case of an obstacle in the road. You will need more time to react at night due to the diminished visibility. 

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Category: Auto Accidents

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