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Small SUVs do poorly in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety headlight test

Headlights are an important, but overlooked, piece of safety equipment. In a recent group test, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that most headlights were inadequate. A second round of testing with a group of small crossover SUVs yielded similar results.

The IIHS tested 21 models, with 47 different headlight configurations among them. Not one car managed to earn the top “good” rating, and more than two thirds received the worst rating of “poor.” As with the previous test, the IIHS measured light projection over a straightaway and sharp and gentle left and righthand curves, as well as the level of glare for oncoming drivers.

The 2017 Ford Escape, 2016 Honda CR-V, 2016 Hyundai Tucson, and 2016 Mazda CX-3 all received “acceptable” scores, one level below “good.” The Mazda was determined to be the best, but only with the curve-adaptive LED lights and high-beam assist available on the top Grand Touring model. The worst vehicle in the test was the 2016 Honda HR-V.

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While the Mazda did best with a pricier optional headlight system, the IIHS noted that price and technology did not guarantee better performance. There was no correlation between vehicle price or features and test scores. The only technology the IIHS explicitly promotes is high-beam assist, which automatically switches to low beams when another car approaches. The organization believes this function will encourage drivers to use their high beams more.

The small SUV test reinforces the trend indicated by the IIHS’ previous headlight test, run earlier this year. That test included 31 models with 82 headlight configurations, but only the 2016 Toyota Prius V achieved a “good” rating, and only with optional LED lights and high-beam assist. Other versions of the Prius V were rated “poor.”

It seems carmakers may have some work to do on headlight design, and the IIHS is about to give them an incentive. Beginning with the 2017 model year, cars will need “good” or “acceptable” headlights to get the organization’s Top Safety Pick+ award. The IIHS is also planning a third headlight test, this time with pickup trucks.