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Top Safety Pick criteria pushed automakers to nix lousy headlights, IIHS says

The IIHS revised the criteria for the awards last year, and it's seeing major improvements from automakers because of it.

The Accord is one model that now boasts Good-rated headlights across the board.
Jon Wong/Roadshow

We detailed the pretty radical changes to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus awards last year. Long story short, automakers had to work a lot harder to earn the awards, and a lot of it hinges on offering well-performing headlights on vehicles. The IIHS on Tuesday said it's happy to report that the changes are already making a difference.

At least 10 automakers have improved headlight offerings for 2021 due to the stricter requirements, by the IIHS' latest count. To qualify for a Top Safety Pick Plus, a vehicle must include Acceptable- or Good-rated headlights across the board. No more of this specific trim kind of stuff for the top accolade; any single trim must include the best headlights. Why? Because it benefits more drivers who can't spend extra money to "unlock" better safety gear up the trim hierarchy.

The automakers and their cars that received the IIHS' round of applause for boosting headlight performance into Top Safety Pick Plus range include the Audi A7, Honda Accord, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Altima, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volvo S60, Volvo XC40 and Volvo XC60. Even some models that still fall short of the award now include Good-rated headlights, such as the BMW 5 Series.

The IIHS found half of all fatal crashes in the US occur in the dark, and a quarter of those happen on unlit roads. Headlights are the first line of defense to illuminate a driver's surroundings. If automakers want to drop in Top Safety Pick Plus ad ammunition, they have to earn the award, first and foremost. Good-rated headlights shine 325 feet ahead of the driver in the IIHS' standards. At the low end of the scale, Poor-rated headlights illuminated 220 feet or less.

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