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Can Better Headlights Reduce the Number of Car Accidents?

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Half of all fatal car accidents in the United States happen in the dark. If automakers and insurance companies have their input, improvements in headlights will play a big part in reducing nighttime accidents in the future.

According to a recent report published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), headlights play a vital role in accident reduction. Motor vehicles with a Good headlight rating decreased accident rates by 12 to 29 percent compared with low-quality headlights.

Based on the agency’s extensive research, the IIHS encourages all automakers to install advanced headlight technology to reduce the risk of single-vehicle nighttime collisions. This discussion looks at promising innovations in headlight technology aimed at reducing accidents and saving lives.

What Does the Research Say about the Link Between Headlights and Car Accidents?

The IIHS study reports that in the United States, although vehicle traffic in the darkest hours between 7:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. represents 22 percent of all miles traveled, it also accounts for 46 percent of all fatalities from car accidents. That means the nighttime fatal accident rate is three times the rate of daytime collisions.

The study cites factors including disparities in alcohol use, speeding, and seat belt use during the day and night. However, it also mentions the difference in ambient illumination as a key contributor to nighttime collisions.

Are Headlight Regulations Outdated?

The United States Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 108 regulates headlight safety and requires the minimum light intensity based on how the beams are angled, particularly in scenarios that could cause a glare to other drivers. But the regulation may also prevent headlights from providing comparable or adequate performance.

The regulation does not include aiming requirements once a headlight is installed on a vehicle, and it also creates the same angular test points for all types of vehicles, regardless of how far apart they are spread or how high they are mounted. What does all this mean? It suggests that regulations for auto headlights are not diverse enough to consider various road conditions, focus angles, and vehicle makes and models that have different headlight placements.

Headlight Ratings Are Now Part of Crash Test Safety Ratings

Two entities conduct car crash safety tests in the United States: the federal government and the IIHS. In 2020, the IIHS added a new criterion as part of their Top Safety Pick. Now, autos that win this award must demonstrate effective headlight projections on straight paths and on curves.

In 2019, the IIHS named 30 different vehicles Top Safety Picks. After the headlight category was introduced, only 23 vehicles earned the award. That disparity suggests headlights in many models are not nearly as safe as they can be. 

Your Next Vehicle May Have Better Headlights

For 2021, more models are expected to earn the coveted IIHS Top Pick for safety, primarily because more automakers are including improved headlights as standard features. These safety award-winners vary in style and price point and include entry-level vehicles along with luxury models.

Some cars that won safety awards after changing their headlight packages include:

  • Audi A7
  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Palisade
  • Mazda CX-30
  • Nissan Altima
  • Subaru Ascent
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Volvo S60
  • Volvo XC40

Exciting Improvements in Headlight Safety

Even though the headlight safety standard has been unchanged since it was first issued in 1968, vehicle and headlight manufacturers have made their own voluntary changes to make headlights brighter and more precise.

Some headlight safety improvements include the following:

Automatic high-beam headlights. As the name suggests, automatic high-beam headlights turn on and off as needed without the driver having to activate them. A built-in sensor detects light emitted from nearby vehicles and turns off high beams to prevent blinding other drivers. When other drivers are gone, the system turns them back on to increase visibility.

Curve-adaptive headlight technology. Curve-adaptive headlights contain bulbs that shift toward the direction the vehicle is traveling. As the driver turns the steering wheel to the right or left, or as sensors detect curves in the road ahead, the headlights pivot in that direction to illuminate the road ahead more effectively.

High-intensity discharge (HID) headlights. HID headlights offer brighter light and longer reach than more commonly used halogen headlights. They provide the whitest luminescence of all types of headlights, giving off light that is similar to daylight. That is important because accident rates in daylight are far less than at night.

Light-emitting diode (LED) headlights. LED headlights were first created in 1993 but were not widely introduced in motor vehicles prior to the 2000s. LED headlights provide more intense brightness than halogen lights and are comparable with HID headlights. One major advantage to LED headlights is they do not produce a glare for oncoming drivers, like HIDs can. LED rays can also be shaped in a variety of ways to allow for precise focus points.

AAA Research Confirms New Headlights Are Safer 

The IIHS is not the only agency doing important research on the connection between headlights and serious traffic accidents. The AAA Automobile Club of Southern California’s Research Center conducted their own research on the limitations of auto headlights for vehicles traveling at average highway speeds.

Their study confirms some of the improvements and advancements in headlight technology do enhance visibility and safety.

AAA of Southern California found HID headlights illuminate non-reflective objects up to an average of 400 feet away, allowing drivers to travel up to 45 miles per hour with the ability to stop and avoid an obstacle ahead. That is 100 feet more reach than traditional halogen head lamps offer.

LED lights provide greater reach than both halogen and HID headlights, illuminating objects up to 450 away. This added reach means drivers can travel at 52 miles per hour and stop safely in front of a hazard.

Headlight Safety Tips

There are plenty of vehicles that do not have the new and improved headlights. If that includes your car, there are some things you can do to help prevent car accidents in the dark. 

Here are three practical tips to prevent nighttime car accidents and injuries:

Use high beams when needed. Statistics show only 64 percent of drivers in this country use their high-beam lights on a regular basis. Without them, your field of vision is reduced, making it harder to see obstacles ahead.

Practice good high-beam etiquette. High beams do improve visibility, especially on unlit roads. However, when used improperly, they can also be a hazard.

If you cannot see farther than approximately 200 feet away, use your high beams unless another vehicle is approaching you from the opposite direction and is within 200 feet of your vehicle, or you are less than 200 behind another vehicle.

It is a common misconception that high beams are helpful in bad weather. Never use high beams in fog, heavy rain, or snow, as they can cause a dangerous glare.

Inspect, clean, and replace headlights as needed. Make headlight care a part of routine vehicle maintenance. While your car is parked, turn on your headlights and check to make sure they are working.

They should be in perfect alignment with each other and give off the same brightness. If one bulb is out, it is usually a good idea to replace them both, as the other is likely to go out soon as well.

How to Clean Headlights

Dirty, cloudy headlights also impact visibility. A few times per month, use a damp microfiber cloth and glass cleaner or soap and water to remove dirt and debris.

For stubborn bugs, mud, and tar, use a gentle abrasive made of one part baking soda to two parts distilled white vinegar. Rub the mixture onto a dry cloth and then onto the headlights, rotating in small circles across the surface of the lights.

When finished, rinse the headlights with fresh water and allow them to air dry. You can also use one of the many commercial headlight cleaners available on the market. Before cleaning your headlights, always consult your vehicle’s manual for specific instructions.

Headlight safety has come a long way in the past few decades. But even the most advanced technology can never fully reduce the risk of human error, road hazards, and bad weather. If you were injured in a nighttime car accident and are facing large medical bills and an extensive recovery, contact a car accident lawyer for guidance.

Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, Help Those Injured in Nighttime Accidents

Driving at night prevents unique challenges, including low visibility. If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident at night, the Philadelphia car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, are ready to help. We have a proven track record of successful verdicts and settlements over the past 15 years. Put that experience to work for you. Call us today at 215-569-4888 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.