NEWS

Not a Shot in the Dark: 11 Cars Improve IIHS Headlight Safety Ratings

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy | Manufacturer image

After dinging automakers for subpar headlights for years, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that automakers are making their cars safer by equipping them with better headlights. Several auto manufacturers have improved their model-year 2021 headlight options by eliminating or updating inferior choices, earning such cars the agency’s highest safety recommendation, Top Safety Pick Plus. 

Related: Report: Headlights Improving, But Most Base Models Still in the Dark 

Shop the 2021 Toyota Highlander near you

Used
2021 Toyota Highlander XLE
10,098 mi.
$47,577 $300 price drop
Good Deal | $136 under
Home Delivery
Virtual Appointments
Used
2021 Toyota Highlander XLE
12,242 mi.
$43,990
Good Deal | $884 under
Home Delivery
Virtual Appointments

These 11 model-year 2021 vehicles have newly earned the agency’s Top Safety Pick Plus award after their automakers eliminated badly rated headlights or updated OK ones:

That’s good news for consumers. IIHS data shows that around half of all fatal crashes happen in the dark, with more than a quarter occurring on unlit roads; the agency says poor headlights are a big contributing factor, and it has been trying to change the industry’s approach for years. 

“It’s common sense that quality headlights protect against nighttime and other low-light crashes,” IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement. “But even when manufacturers have offered good headlights, too often they were expensive add-ons that could be hard to find.”

Tougher Standards, Improved Outcomes

The agency began factoring headlight performance into its safety ratings in 2016 and has since toughened the standards. For its 2020 awards, vehicles only qualify for IIHS’ Top Safety Pick Plus award if they come equipped with good or acceptable headlights across all trims. (IIHS rates headlights as good, acceptable, marginal or poor.) Many lights fell short as a result of the agency’s new headlight requirements, but this new list shows that manufacturers are clearly reacting to update their vehicles.

In fact, automakers are updating vehicles that already earned the Top Safety Pick Plus award for model-year 2020 vehicles with better headlights for 2021. The Acura RDX and Subaru Forester, Legacy and Outback were available with different headlights that earned both good and acceptable ratings; for 2021, good-rated headlights are standard.

“More manufacturers are going to a single headlight package for many 2021 models, which is a big win for consumers,” Harkey said. “Sometimes, taking an inferior piece of equipment off the market is as important as the invention of a better one.” 

Why Are 2021 Models Earning 2020 Ratings?

Note, confusingly, that IIHS’ calendar-year awards don’t always correspond with model years. The 2021 models listed above all qualify for IIHS’ 2020 awards, but such ratings may not carry over to the agency’s 2021 awards if the criteria for such designations change, as is often the case. IIHS typically unveils the next calendar year for its awards each December, but the agency did not issue the 2020 awards until February

As of this writing, IIHS has yet to issue awards for 2021, but Joe Young, a spokesperson for the agency, said the cars awarded with improved headlights should see their designation carry over.

“We are still referring to 2020 Top Safety Pick[ Plus] awards,” Young said in an email to Cars.com. “However, unlike in previous years, we actually will not be changing the criteria for 2021 awards. So, you can expect these to qualify when we make that announcement early next year, though we haven’t officially started awarding the 2021 awards yet.”

More From Cars.com:

Related Video:

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Latest expert reviews