MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The Toyota Prius was the 'clear' winner in the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety's first ever test of headlights.
Of the 31 midsized cars tested, where both the high beams and low beams were evaluated, the Prius v was the only on to earn a good rating when it was equipped with upgraded LED lights and high-beam assist.
"That's adding $7000 to the cost of a Prius over the base model to get the better headlights," said IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby.
The BMW 3 Series, with halogen headlights, had the lowest scores.
"Over half of the fatal crashes that occur every year occur at night or at dusk or at dawn. Uh, helping drivers see the road better at night can help cut into those deaths and injuries," said Zuby.
The IIHS said new high intensity lights, and curve adaptive headlights that adjust to steering, don't always mean better performance.
The Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima and Mercedes-Benz C-Class all earn poor ratings even when equipped with adaptive low and high beams. One of the best headlight systems evaluated has none of the new technology. The basic halogen lights on the Honda Accord 4-door earn an acceptable rating, while an LED system with high-beam assist available on the Accord earns only a marginal.
A vehicle's price tag is no guarantee of decent headlights. Many of the poor-rated headlights belong to luxury vehicles.
"If you're having trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame," said Zuby.
While most headlights need improvement, drivers already have a key tool to improve visibilty - their high beams. The IIHS said a recent study found drivers rarely use them.
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