Headlights are making incremental improvements but continue to lag acceptable standards despite snazzy new technology and sleek design, according to an industry group that has raised awareness about the matter.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported Tuesday that only two of the U.S. auto industry's 37 mid-size sport-utility vehicles offer headlight packages with "good" performance.
IIHS, which has been gradually testing the hundreds of models sold in the U.S., concluded that 11 models offer "poor" headlights, 12 fall in the "marginal" category and 12 are "acceptable." The organization ranked 2017 models based on the best-available headlight package on each vehicle.
By comparison, 12 of the 21 small SUV models tested by IIHS in 2016 delivered "poor" performance, while only four were "acceptable."
"They are still coming up short, but things are improving," IIHS senior research engineer Matt Brumbelow said. "Manufacturers are responding and some of the quick fixes have already taken place."
More on headlight performance:
The two models that ranked best were the Volvo XC60 and Hyundai Santa Fe. The poor performers were the Infiniti QX60, Lincoln MKC, Lincoln MKX, Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Ford Explorer, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Jeep Wrangler, Kia Sorento and Toyota 4Runner.
Some automakers are offering new lights that swivel with the curvature of the road, but they aren't necessarily better than stationary headlights.
For example, the optional curve-adaptive low-beam lights on the Volvo XC60 provide right-side visibility of 315 feet on a straightaway, while the Kia Sorento's curve-adaptive low-beam lights provided visibility of 148 feet, according to IIHS.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents major automakers on Washington policy issues, has advocated for altering outdated U.S. regulations to allow the adoption of technology currently available in Europe and Japan that could vastly improve headlight performance. The so-called adaptive beam headlights dim the light aimed at oncoming motorists to reduce glare while maintaining high beams on the road ahead to ensure visibility.
Japanese automaker Toyota asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 to allow adaptive beam technology. But four years later, NHTSA hasn't made a decision.
"DOT and NHTSA welcome data and research, including that by IIHS, that can serve to encourage manufacturers to improve headlight performance beyond minimum federal safety standards," NHTSA said in a recent statement to USA TODAY.
Among the problems with headlights are basic manufacturing errors. Brumbelow of IIHS said that manufacturers need to do a better job of aiming headlights in the right direction when they're installed.
"The issue is really up until now no one was checking this. The federal regulation doesn’t require aim to be controlled," he said.
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