Headlights on Most 2018 Base-Model Vehicles Are Leaving Drivers in the Dark, Study Finds

"Consumers shouldn't have to buy a fully loaded vehicle to get the headlights they need to safely drive at night," said IIHS spokesman David Aylor

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that headlights on nearly half of 2018 model cars tested by the group do not adequately light the road, and most “good-rated” headlights only come with optional packages or an upgraded trim.

According to the IIHS, out of 424 headlight possibilities across trims on 2018 models tested by the group, 67 percent earned a "marginal" or "poor" rating because of inadequate visibility for drivers, excessive glare from low beams for oncoming drivers, or both.

The IIHS, an insurance industry-funded organization that evaluates automotive safety, said that 32 of 165 models tested earned the highest rating of good for their best-available headlights, while 58 models earned the second-highest rating of "acceptable" on their best-available lights.

The study also found that many base-line models have lower-than-average quality headlights, with good-quality lights only available on certain trims or as an optional feature that can often cost consumers a lot more.

The Kia Soul, for instance, earned a good rating for its best-available headlights, but consumers must pay an additional $3,000 to $6,000 for a package on one of the top two trim lines to get them. This increases the Soul’s base model — and it’s poor-rated headlights — from $16,000 to nearly $26,000.

"Consumers shouldn't have to buy a fully loaded vehicle to get the headlights they need to safely drive at night," said IIHS spokesman David Aylor. "All new vehicles should come with good headlights."

Stock Image
Top: Hyundai Kona with LED projector headlights (Ultimate, Limited trims built after May 2018). Bottom: Hyundai Kona with halogen projector headlights (SE, SEL trims).

The only 2018 models that the IIHS found to come with good-rated headlights, no matter the trim line or options package, are the Genesis G90 and the Lexus NX.

The Chevrolet Volt, Mercedes Benz E class, Genesis G80 and Toyota Camry had "good" best-available headlights while its less expensive trims still earned an "acceptable" rating, the IIHS said.

Meanwhile, some manufacturers are leaving drivers in the dark. Poor-rated headlights are the only ones available on 43 models evaluated by the IIHS.

"Headlights are essential crash avoidance technology," IIHS said in a news release announcing the study's findings. "About half of all fatal crashes in the U.S. occur in the dark, and more than a quarter occur on unlit roads. Headlights have an obvious role to play in preventing nighttime crashes, but not all headlights perform their job equally."

Engineers at IIHS measure how far light is projected from the low beams and the high beams as the vehicle travels straight and around curves. They also consider the amount of visibility provided by both high and low beams and whether they are creating excessive glare for oncoming drivers.

In its evaluations, IIHS engineers found LEDs or high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, scored better than halogen projector headlights. They are also more expensive.

The IIHS says since it started grading headlights two years ago, manufacturers have made improvements to improve ratings. That’s because good-rated headlights are required to qualify for a Top Safety Pick award.

A full list of tested vehicles and their rating is available here.

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