Crummy Headlights Decimated the IIHS Top Safety Pick List

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
crummy headlights decimated the iihs top safety pick list

Things became grim the moment the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety added headlight performance to its testing regimen. An initial report on midsize cars came back with only a single vehicle receiving a good score, and IIHS wasn’t any kinder toward SUVs or pickup trucks. The general consensus seemed to be that most headlights are absolutely terrible at providing adequate visibility but great at blinding oncoming traffic.

Adding headlight effectiveness to the ratings criteria for the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick+ designation ended up cutting the previous year’s list practically in half. Down from 79, only 38 models received the safety plus appointment under the new measurements.

“The field of contenders is smaller this year because so few vehicles have headlights that do their job well, but it’s not as small as we expected when we decided to raise the bar for the award,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in a statement.

American automakers, which have dwindled from the list over the last few years, can blame the new headlight guidelines for this year’s particularly bad performance. Only three U.S. models earned the Top Safety Pick+ distinction: Buick’s Envision, Chevrolet’s Volt, and the Chrysler Pacifica.

Asia did much better. Toyota had nine winners and Honda was second with five. Subaru and Nissan both had three. Hyundai had a couple too, including the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe seen being demolished in the above photo.

The new IIHS ratings criteria requires that vehicles must earn a “good” or “acceptable” rating on the headlight evaluations to merit a consideration for a Top Safety Pick+ award. Testing evaluates not only forward distance illumination but also curved road effectiveness and how much glare other drivers are subjected to.

With higher-tech crash prevention systems like brake-assist and collision detection becoming more common in vehicles, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety decided to take a careful look at headlights — something that wasn’t necessarily benefiting from, or improving with, those other advancements. “Some lights with the newer technology are not doing as good of a job as older headlights,” Lund said.

With around half of all fatal accidents occurring at night, you would hope that automakers would go the extra mile to make sure headlights are up to snuff. However, IIHS says that government standards for the basic safety equipment, established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, allows for large variations in illumination.

“We’ve raised the bar,” Lund told USA Today. “Automakers have not focused enough attention on whether or not headlamps are aimed such that they light up the road for the driver ahead of them.”

In addition to a positive headlight assessment, vehicles must receive good ratings on all IIHS crash tests and have “advanced” or “superior” collision avoidance systems to garner a Top Safety Pick+ award. A standard Top Safety Pick rating requires identical criteria with the exception of the headlight ratings.

[Image: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]

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  • Jim123 Jim123 on Dec 09, 2016

    Speaking of blinding headlights, the bubbas around my region get off on "leveling" their trucks (which make them look dumb as hell when there's a load or heavy trailer out back) without correcting the aim of their headlights. So now I got a 2016+ Gm/Ford bro-dozer with HID/LED headlights either coming at me or is directly behind me melting mah eyeballs. Even worse when they have them 35" tires and some type of lift. Auto-leveling headlights should be federally mandated.

    • Ttacgreg Ttacgreg on Dec 10, 2016

      Government regulation? . . . You Marxist socialist communist!!!!! :P

  • Counterpoint Counterpoint on Dec 10, 2016

    It's nice to see the IIHS keep raising the bar on safety. But still it's a shame that the NHTSA seems to be stuck and hasn't mandated better safety requirements. At this point no manufacturer should even be allowed to sell a passenger vehicle without the level of crash safety necessary to earn an IIHS TSP award. Several manufacturers have demonstrated that it's possible to build safe vehicles at a low price. So any manufacturer who still isn't earning TSP awards across their entire model line is just doing shoddy, lazy engineering.

  • Conundrum Three cylinder Ford Escapes, Chevy whatever it is that competes, and now the Rogue. Great, ain't it? Toyota'll be next with a de-tuned GR Corolla/Yaris powerplant. It's your life getting better and better, yes indeed. A piston costs money, you know.The Rogue and Altima used to have the zero graviy foam front seats. Comfy, but the new Rogue dumps that advance. Costs money. And that color-co-ordinated gray interior, my, ain't it luvverly? Ten years after they perfected it in the first Versa to appeal to the terminally depressed, it graduates to the Rogue.There's nothing decent to buy on the market for normal money. Not a damn thing interests me at all.
  • Inside Looking Out It looks good and is popular in SF Bay Area.
  • Inside Looking Out Ford F150 IMHO. It is a true sports car on our freeways.
  • Inside Looking Out Articles like that are nirvana for characters like EBFlex.
  • ToolGuy "Ford expects to see Pro have a $6 billion pre-tax profit this year and Blue a $7 billion pre-tax profit."• That's some serious money from commercial vehicles (the 'Pro' part)