How many times have we heard that pedestrians should “do the bright thing” or “Police say it was dark and the driver could not see the cyclist, who was wearing dark clothing”? Perhaps there should be some discussion about the vehicle: The fact that many of them are SUVs, and it turns out that most small SUVs have lousy headlights. On some of them, like the Honda HR-V, the headlights barely do anything at all. Cost of the vehicle and type of light have little to do with it; the fancy Audi Q3 with its xenon bulbs got among the lowest scores.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied 21 small SUVs and not a single one got a good rating. Only four were acceptable and the great majority were poor. According to the IIHS:
Among the 21 vehicles, there are 47 different headlight combinations available. More than two-thirds of them are rated poor, making this group of vehicles even more deficient when it comes to lighting than the midsize cars that were the first to be rated earlier this year.
Headlight performance in today's vehicles varies widely. Government standards are based on laboratory tests, which don't accurately gauge performance in real-world driving. The issue merits attention because about half of traffic deaths occur either in the dark or around dawn or dusk.
"Manufacturers aren't paying enough attention to the actual on-road performance of this basic equipment," says IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow.
Brumbelow thinks it will get better now that they are on the case pointing this out. He might be a bit over-optimistic; the manufacturers are not doing much about the fact that SUVs are inherently more dangerous to pedestrians by the very nature of their design; no doubt they would rather continue designing sexy looking headlights rather than worry about how well they work.