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Seeing is believing: Automakers improving headlights

When you step onto the gleaming floor of a Baton Rouge new car dealership, you’ll be told all about safety features on the latest models. In an ongoing effort by automakers to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes, new cars, pick-ups and SUVs can include pedestrian detection alerts, 360° driver vision, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and more.

Shining a light on safety

Though salespeople might not mention it, many new vehicles are equipped with another advancement in safety technology: improved headlights. Sure, upgraded headlights lack high-tech sizzle, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the improvement will save lives.

The IIHS says that of the 2021 models it has tested so far, 17 have been equipped with better headlights than 2020 models had, including vehicles from Hyundai, Honda, Subaru and Volvo.

Withholding honors

Beginning with the 2020 model year, IIHS pressured automakers to improve poor headlights by withholding its highest safety award (Top Safety Pick+) from vehicles with lights that were not rated “good” or “acceptable” for each version of the model.

“Automakers deserve credit for moving forward as quickly as they have,” IIHS President David Harkey said. “Headlights are a critical piece of safety equipment that we often don’t think about.”

The organization was motivated to withhold its valued Top Safety Pick+ award after crash data revealed that approximately half of U.S. crashes are at night, with more than a quarter of accidents occurring on unlit roads.

Unsafe aim

IIHS’s safety testers said some automakers install headlights aimed at oncoming vehicles, while others create glare, aren’t properly aimed at streets or simply do not light up roads enough. In still other cases, auto designers compromised headlight functionality in order to improve a vehicle’s sex appeal.

When the organization began assessing headlight performance four years ago, only two of 95 models tested that year were rated “good.” Last year, headlights on 85 of 185 models tested were rated “good.”

Unfortunately, those “good” headlights were standard on only eight of those 185 models.

Top Ten list

In the 2021 model year, 10 vehicles had their safety ratings moved up to Top Safety Pick+ by improving headlights, the IIHS said:

  • Audi A7
  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Palisade
  • Mazda CX-30
  • Nissan Altima
  • Subaru Ascent
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Volvo S60
  • Volvo XC40
  • Volvo XC60

In addition, Honda’s Odyssey improved from receiving no safety award last year, to Top Safety Pick+ after receiving a number of improvements, including the replacement of a pair of poor-performing headlight options on versions of the van.

More models will be tested by IIHS before the end of the model year. Hopefully, more vehicles will feature “good” headlights that will help make Louisiana’s roads brighter and safer.

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