IIHS Study Reveals ‘Good’ Headlights Reduce Accident Risk

A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS] shows that the condition of the headlights on a vehicle can affect safety.

According to IIHS’s study, crashes at night are nearly 20% lower for vehicles with headlights that have a good rating in the IIHS evaluation. Vehicles with acceptable or marginal headlights have a 15% and 10% lower accident rate, respectively.

“Driving at night is three times as risky as driving during the day,” IIHS senior research engineer Matthew Brumbelow, who conducted the study, says. “This is the first study to document how much headlights that provide better illumination can help.”

Since the IIHS began its headlight ratings program in 2016, approximately 1,000 different headlight systems have been rated, giving the organization an idea of which headlights provide good, acceptable, marginal and poor performance.

The study’s results highlight that federal headlight regulations are not stringent enough, having experienced no significant changes since 1968. The IIHS says federal standard specifies minimum and maximum brightness levels at various angles and does not consider new technologies, including curve-adaptive headlights.

Since inception of the study, headlights earning a good rating have increased from only 4% to 29%. As IIHS’s award criteria have evolved, quality headlights have become more available. “Our awards have been a huge motivator for automakers to improve their headlights,” Brumbelow says. “Now, with our new study, we have confirmation that these improvements are saving lives.”

Burco Inc. in Michigan manufactures OE-equivalent side mirror replacements with a 40-60% reflectivity to keep drivers safe at night. Headlights of the vehicle behind you are reflected in side mirrors.

Burco Inc. president Bill Castleberry says he is not surprised by the IIHS’s study results because he sees them every morning driving to work. He says you can always point out which cars have poor headlights, making visibility difficult for them to see you and for you to see them on a darkened road. Castleberry says he tells family members and co-workers when he notices they have poor headlights to get them fixed.

Castleberry recommends the importance of side mirrors also for safe nighttime driving. If your side mirror is broken, he says to get it fixed. “Sideview mirrors are an integral part of a vehicle’s safety system,” he says.

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