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Car and Driver: IIHS to Begin Attaching Headlight Performance Standards to Safety Ratings

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2010 Audi R8 LED headlight

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is working to incorporate a headlight-rating segment into its analysis of cars’ safety performance, and it is working to do so soon. According to Automotive News, the research firm is looking to tie headlight performance to a car’s safety rating as soon as 2017. This means that, in order for a car to attain, say, the highest rating of Top Safety Pick +, its headlights must meet yet-to-be-determined criteria. Most likely, expensive technologies such as steerable headlight modules, LED bulbs, and more will be necessary items.
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The implications of IIHS’s move are far-reaching—just look at the results of the recently introduced (by car-development standards) small-overlap crash test—and could force automakers to adopt fancier lighting tech sooner. Currently, an IIHS Top Safety Pick is earned by way of “good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap front test,” according to IIHS. A Top Safety Pick +, on the other hand, must “earn an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.” Most recently, IIHS hung the requirement that cars have front-crash prevention technology (automatic braking and collision warning) around the neck of a Top Safety Pick + rating; as the firm notes, “Top Safety Pick + winners with optional front crash prevention qualify for the higher award only when equipped with the technology.” As a result, we’ve seen a flood of models add that feature.

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It’s a fair assumption that similar bait will be set with headlight technology. Today, HID headlights are only just starting to become widespread in average-priced cars, while LED headlights and adaptive, steerable lights are still optional and largely the purview of luxury vehicles. We’re all for the democratization of better headlights—and safer vehicles—but it isn’t yet clear what the implications will be for vehicle cost. Nor is it clear whether the IIHS’s upcoming mandate might speed the availability of future lighting technology such as laser lights, matrix-LED lamps, and the like that currently are tied up in U.S. regulatory tape.

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