Your Next Car Will Have Better Headlights, Thanks to Insurance Rule

By Sean Tucker 12/16/2020 9:51am

Audi A7 headlamp

Almost half of the fatal car accidents happen in the dark. That seems like a simple reason for every car to carry effective headlights. Yet, car headlight quality can vary widely. Thanks to an insurance industry rule, that’s changing.

A quick explanation. There are two separate entities that perform car crash tests in the U.S. One is the federal government. The other is a laboratory founded by a consortium of insurance companies, called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Though the test results from each are informative, most regard the IIHS tests as more thorough and harder for a car to pass. After all,  a change to government standards involves more red tape and more time. The IIHS updates its requirements without the need for public comment periods and possible congressional review.

For the 2020 model year, it did just that. The safety lab tests headlights by measuring how far they project light on both a straightaway and a curve. For the 2020 model year, the IIHS added that headlight test to the criteria Top Safety Pick + award.

Lighting impact on ratings

Fewer cars won recognition under the tougher standards. Though the IIHS gave out 30 Top Safety Pick+ awards in 2019, it found only 23 cars worthy once headlights were taken into account.

For 2021, the number of awards is on the rise (we don’t have a final number because testing is still ongoing). Why the change? At least ten automakers have improved headlights, the Institute says. Often, this involves making brighter and higher-cost optional lighting standard equipment.

“More manufacturers are going to a single headlight package for many 2021 models, which is a big win for consumers,” IIHS president David Harkey said. “Sometimes, taking an inferior piece of equipment off the market is as important as the invention of a better one.”

Models that won the award after a change to their headlight packages include the Audi A7, Honda Accord, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Altima, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volvo S60, Volvo XC40 and Volvo XC60.