IIHS Tests SUV Headlights, and the Results Are Pretty Bad

Out of 37 SUVs tested, IIHS ranks only two of them as "Good."

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We all know headlights are important, yet Automotive News reports that only two of the 37 SUVs recently tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety meet their requirements for "good" headlights. These models, the Volvo XC60 and Hyundai Santa Fe, both feature optional curve-adaptive HID projector headlights with high beam assist.

IIHS says the Santa Fe's standard halogen headlights would have earned a "poor" rating for inadequate visibility, but the test ranks models by their best available headlight option. Just 14 models rank in the "good" or "acceptable" range necessary to be chosen an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

IIHS started rating headlights last year. Their test measures how far headlights shine down straightaways and curves to an intensity of at least 5 lux. They also measure the amount of glare oncoming vehicles will see. The less glare, the better their rating. Low beams are more important than high beams for the test since those are the lights used most of the time.

Cars equipped with automatic high beams get their low beam demerits reduced since the high beams will be used more often than in cars with manual high beams. Straightaways are weighed more heavily than curves. This may seem counterintuitive, but IIHS says that most crashes happen on straightaways rather than curves, which is why straight line performance is more important to them. 

The United States has long been home to woefully inadequate lighting systems. The ancient technology of sealed beam headlights was required all the way until the Eighties. Since then, many halogen headlights have been designed more for form than function, or to save money by only offering improved headlights on top end trim lines. But early HID headlights were often poorly focused, blinding oncoming drivers.

The outdated laws have since been relaxed and headlights have improved, but not in all cases. Hopefully IIHS testing, and their requirement of at least an "acceptable" rating to be a Top Safety Pick, will encourage manufacturers to improve headlight technology across all of their models.