Do Better Headlights Actually Make Cars Safer?

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Carmakers spend billions researching and developing high-tech solutions to road safety issues. Much of this centers around collision prevention, with huge advancements made in areas like forward collision warnings, blind spot monitoring, and lane keeping assistance.
However, there is one simple safety feature which has received much less coverage, and that is the use of brighter headlights.
You may not have noticed a difference, but over the last few years, automakers have been upgrading their headlights to qualify for better safety scores. Sure, it’s not as cool as automated driver assistance, but the data suggests this simple change is saving lives. 
A close-up shot of a headlight on a car at night.
Automakers have been paying closer attention to headlight quality lately.

The clear benefits of better headlights

Kelley Blue Book explains how The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ranks headlights on a sliding scale, depending on how well they illuminate the road. The ratings are Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor.
The IIHS then analyzed police reports from almost 50,000 single-vehicle, nighttime crashes, and found that cars with a “Good” headlight rating were involved in 19% fewer crashes than those rated “Poor.” Cars with an “Acceptable” rating had 15% fewer crashes, and those with a “Marginal” rating had 10% fewer crashes.
Additionally, drivers with “Good” headlights who were involved in accidents tended to suffer less severe injuries, and their vehicles incurred less damage. This suggests that better headlights allow for a faster reaction time, which of course makes sense.

Safety scores a good motivator for carmakers

The IIHS added headlights to its safety ratings criteria in 2020, meaning that in order to qualify for a Top Safety Pick Plus award, cars need to have “Good” or “Acceptable” headlights at every trim level.
It appears that automakers have responded well, with many of them equipping base models with upgraded headlights at no extra cost to the consumer. KBB explains that in 2015, just 4% of cars received a “Good” rating; in 2021, this number sits at 29%.
The next logical step is for the U.S. to follow in Canada’s footsteps, and encourage carmakers to include headlights that turn on automatically when it's dark outside, and discourage the use of red turn signals
While these may seem small fry compared to other technological advancements, the success of brighter headlights shows that simple changes are often the most effective.

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