Shining Some Light on Headlights

downloadThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently conducted its first-ever test of automobile headlights. The results may surprise you.

According to this study, only one vehicle qualified for the highest rating of “Good” – the Toyota Prius – out of the 31 midsize cars evaluated. In fact, the best available headlights on 11 cars only earned an “Acceptable” rating, while nine only reached a “Marginal” rating. Ten of the vehicles evaluated cannot be purchased with anything other than “Poor-rated” headlights. Further, many of the poor-rated headlights belong to luxury vehicles.

Government standards for headlights, based on laboratory tests, allow a large variation in the amount of illumination that headlights provide in actual on-road driving. Since about half of all traffic deaths occur in dusk, dark or dawn conditions, it stands to reason that improved headlights could potentially decrease the number of fatalities.

Although there are different types of headlight technology, the IIHS does not favor one over another; it simply rewards systems that produce ample illumination without excessive glare for drivers of oncoming vehicles. A vehicle with excessive glare cannot earn a rating above “Marginal.”

Headlights were tested as received from the dealer. Although the vertical aim of headlights can be adjusted on most vehicles, IIHS doesn’t modify the headlight aim since few vehicle owners ever do and some manufacturers even advise against it.

Although there were several variables used in the testing, allowances were made to make the testing as equitable as possible, e.g., readings on the straightaway were weighted more heavily than those on the curves because more crashes occur on straight sections of road, and results for low beams are weighted more heavily than high beams because they are used more often.

Although only thirty-one 2016 vehicles were evaluated, a total of 82 headlights were rated, since vehicles can be equipped with different headlights. The Institute is rating every possible headlight combination as it becomes available from dealers.

Among the 44 headlight systems earning a “Poor” rating, the halogen lights on the BMW 3 series were the worst. With an LED curve-adaptive system with high-beam assist, it rated “Marginal.”

The results of the study are shown below.

2016 Midsize Cars – Best Available Headlight System for Each Model


Toyota Prius v


Audi A3

Honda Accord 4-door

Infiniti Q50

Lexus ES

Lexus IS

Mazda 6

Nissan Maxima

Subaru Outback (built after Nov. 2015)

Volkswagen CC

Volkswagen Jetta

Volvo S60


Acura TLX

Audi A4

BMW 2 series

BMW 3 series

Chrysler 200

Ford Fusion

Lincoln MKZ

Subaru Legacy

Toyota Camry


Buick Verano

Cadillac ATS

Chevrolet Malibu

Chevrolet Malibu Limited (fleet model)

Hyundai Sonata

Kia Optima

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Mercedes-Benz CLA

Nissan Altima

Volkswagen Passat

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries and property damage — from crashes on the nation’s roads. It is wholly supported by auto insurers.

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