To get a 2018 Kia Soul with good-rated headlights, rather than poor headlights, Colorado drivers have to buy a version that costs about $10,000 more than the baseline version, a national safety lab says.

Good But Costly Headlights Available in Some Models

The road ahead is getting both brighter and safer, but this is not the case for everyone nor every vehicle. New research released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that while an increasing number of new cars and trucks are being sold with headlights that are good or superior, poor, inadequate headlights are still commonplace among new models.

Slightly more than half of the 2018 cars and truck models tested by IIHS had headlights available that adequately illuminated roadways at night and kept the glare faced by oncoming drivers to a minimum. However, most of the headlights rated Good or Better are options or packaged with other added features that increase the models’ prices.

Best known for its coveted annual Top Safety Pick awards, IIHS has been focusing on better headlights since early 2016, when only two of the 95 headlight systems it evaluated in 2016 car and truck models earned a good rating. And lights became a top priority for manufacturers as the research lab added a whole new category for safety, its Top Safety Pick Plus. To win the Plus distinction, reviewed models had to ace all of the usual crash tests plus have good-rated headlights.

By the time the 2018 models hit dealer showrooms, 32 of 165 car and truck models evaluated had Good headlights as a standard or optional feature. 58 models had Acceptable headlights available, 32 had Marginal headlights, and 43 models had only Poor lights available.

A car or truck model may be offered with several headlight choices. IIHS test lab researchers found 424 varieties of headlights in the models it tested. About 67 percent earned a marginal or poor rating, meaning they provided inadequate visibility or cast an excessive glare on the low-beam setting.

The only 2018 models to feature Good headlights as a standard feature are the Genesis G90, a large luxury car, and the Lexus NX, a midsize luxury sports utility vehicle.

Several other vehicles had headlights that ranged from Acceptable to Good: Chevrolet Volt, Genesis G80, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Toyota Camry. Fifteen models tested had acceptable headlights on all units sold.

Should safety be a luxury option?

To get the safest headlights, you’ll have to pay more, a lot more, because they come in models with other special options, like leather seats and advanced sound systems. The only pickup truck with Good headlights available, the Honda Ridgeline, features them only on its two top versions or “trim lines”. One of those versions costs nearly $12,000 more than the base model, which comes only with Poor headlights.

The Kia Soul’s best headlights have a Good rating, but if you want them, you’ll have to buy them with options that can drive the price up from $16,000 for the base model — with its Poor headlights — to nearly $26,000.

Better Lights Help Prevent Accidents

Headlights employ different types of technology to cast their beams and to produce different effects. The high-end version of Hyundai Kona’s LED projector headlights illuminates road hazards nearly 450 away on the right side of the road. The low-end Kona version has halogen lights that adequately light only 220 feet of roadway, leaving drivers vulnerable to being involved in an auto accident. The optimal distance for safety is 325 feet. The difference in lighting means that a high-end Kona driver can safely drive an unlit road at 65 mph, whereas a low-end Kona driver would have to drive 25 mph slower to have the same amount of time to react to a road hazard. The Hyundai SUV and 16 other vehicles have the same gap between good and poor headlights.

David Aylor, an IIHS safety testing manager, said car buyers shouldn’t have to choose a fully loaded model to have headlights needed for safe nighttime driving. He also stated:

“All new vehicles should come with good headlights. … In the past two years, manufacturers have made changes to improve headlights, whether through better aim or the light source itself. But we still see a lot of models where the base headlight is poor, so buyers really have to do their homework to make sure they are getting the best available headlights.”

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