Do Higher Quality Headlights Prevent Car Accidents?


Nighttime driving is challenging for many reasons, including low visibility. If a driver cannot see well, the chance of a car accident is much higher. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly half of all car accident fatalities in the United States take place at night. The percentage of fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians is even higher.

Headlights are a vital part of all vehicles, brightening the road so that drivers can see more safely at night. Without them, driving would be almost impossible, especially in rural areas. However, does the quality of a car’s headlights make a difference?

In 2016, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) added headlights to its safety ratings. They test how well headlights illuminate certain distances of the road in a car traveling 40 to 50 miles per hour, and they give them a rating of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor. Out of 80 headlight systems tested that year, only one received a good rating.

The IIHS then looked at police reports for 44,000 single-car nighttime accidents and found that cars equipped with the headlights they rated as good had 19 percent less crashes per mile than the poor group; the acceptable headlights had 15 percent less, and marginal 10 percent less.

The study and subsequent ratings have brought about good results in the auto industry. As of 2021, 29 percent of this year’s models received the top rating. Additionally, the IIHS reports that many automakers stopped offering better headlights as an upgrade customers could add, instead, they started outfitting vehicles with IIHS-rated good or acceptable headlights as standard.

Should I Improve My Headlights?

In vehicle maintenance, the headlights are often overlooked. The condition of your vehicle’s headlights may make the difference between safe driving and causing an accident. Since half of all car crashes happen at night, driving with dim, hazy, broken, and burnt-out headlights dramatically increase your risk of causing an accident. Over time, the plastic headlight casings can become scratched, cloudy, and dirty due to wear and tear and weather, and this can reduce the distance your headlights reach. In this condition, the lights are only functioning at 20 percent, and the darker the road and the higher your speed, the more deadly the accident.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) suggests regular maintenance checks of your headlights and replace bulbs as needed to keep your headlights functioning at 100 percent. Some headlight and bulb options to consider include:

  • Upgrade the headlights. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights are the brightest bulbs on the market, 500 percent over halogen, and last many years longer. LED bulbs offer a true white light versus the yellow tint of halogens, which most cars were fitted with over the last couple of decades. There are available conversion kits on the market that allow you to replace your stock halogen bulbs with LED bulbs. Another alternative to halogen are high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs, which are more than three times brighter. Conversion kits are available for these bulbs as well.
  • Replace headlights and fog lights. If you prefer, depending on the model of your vehicle, you can retrofit the headlights and fog lights with LED or HID headlight assembly, which can improve the lighting by up to 500 percent. For this type of fix, you will want your mechanic to install the new assembly.
  • Clean the headlights. Using a headlight restoration kit can improve visibility dramatically. Over time, wear and tear, scratches, and moisture on headlight coverings can make the lights appear hazy, which limits your visibility. Restoring your vehicle’s lights will noticeably improve your night vision, and upgrading to LED or HID bulbs at the same time will provide even more.
  • Purchase premium halogen bulbs. If you prefer not to convert your headlights or replace the assembly entirely, you can still improve your lights by upgrading the halogen bulbs. Premium halogen lightbulbs are inexpensive and simple to install and will improve your nighttime visibility by up to 50 percent.

Keep in mind that car manufacturers must meet federal regulations on headlights, but those that meet the regulations may perform differently. In order to meet the federal regulations, the light intensity of headlights is measured at different angles from the center. Visibility and glare are measured, but federal standards allow a wide range of intensities and angles.

Headlights also differ from one vehicle model to another. Regulations permit a wide range of height and width and do not specify where they should be aimed, so different cars with the same headlights may have a significant difference in the distance their lights reach.

What if I Have Been Involved in a Nighttime Accident?

Low visibility and darkness at night can impact your ability to take evasive measures to avoid a crash. You may not realize a potential crash incident as easily at night as you would during the day.

If the at-fault driver was operating a vehicle with poor headlights, you may be able to pursue a personal injury claim to compensate for the damage to your car and medical expenses for your injuries. You will want to work with an experienced car accident lawyer who can work on your behalf to investigate the collision and prove your case.

Wilmington Car Accident Lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow Assist Can Help You After a Nighttime Collision

If you were injured in a nighttime car crash by a negligent motorist, our experienced Wilmington car accident lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow are here to advocate for you. Call us at (302) 427-9500 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Bear, and Milford, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Middletown, Dover, Milford, Lewes, Rehoboth, Elsmere, and Seaford.


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