American organisation, the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) recently concluded an investigation to asses the state of the headlamp, a feature so basic it that it's real-world effectiveness is ignored during the buying process, yet is responsible for our ability to drive at night or in poor visibility.
What they found wasn’t good, in that with vehicle manufacturer’s efforts to improve other parts of the car with each iteration, most headlamps in new cars – their quality and ability to effectively illuminate – were pushed to the wayside.
Their research revolved around small SUVs such as the Hyundai Tucson, Honda HR-V, Ford EcoSport, and Mazda CX-3, as it is one of the fastest growing type of new vehicle on sale today and much more likely to carry passengers during most trips, making safety even more of a priority.
The overall rating is based on how well the cars fared in five different situations that test their ability to light the road and/or obstacles ahead: while driving straight, sharp turns, and gradual curves. Other criteria that could earn it extra credit would be the amount of glare perceived by oncoming traffic as well as if the car had automatic high beam control and used it well.
Headlamps vary widely between manufacturers and even between variants of a single model. Often base variants would only be equipped with halogen illumination while the higher to top-spec units would have projectors, xenon, or LEDs – sometimes with adaptive features that follow the direction of the front wheels to light up corners.
There were 21 different cars tested in this batch alone with many combinations of different headlights and features. However, of that bunch, the IIHS rated nearly all of them as “poor” or “marginal”, while the Honda HR-V being the most disappointing of the bunch. The Mazda CX-3, however, took home the only “acceptable” rating which, in the scheme of things, isn’t exactly high praise, especially since it’s reserved for the higher GT Touring spec as it comes with the most effective headlights in the CX-3 range.
IIHS is gradually putting more emphasis on headlights as they test new cars and wants to make it a more prominent factor in determining a car’s overall safety rating. They hope that automakers will respond with a renewed focus on illumination quality in the coming years.
Perhaps ANCAP should also include headlight quality and effectiveness as a core criteria during their own safety tests Down Under.