Automakers looking to earn top safety ratings are peering around the corner to prepare for the next directive from the industry’s de facto safety standard setter.
This time, it will involve headlights.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — whose endorsements are so coveted by automakers that they have helped accelerate the adoption of safety technology — is developing a stand-alone ratings program for headlights, with the first batch of results due out next year, David Zuby, the IIHS’ chief research officer, told Automotive News.
If all goes well, Zuby says, a good performance on the headlight assessment will become a requirement for a vehicle to earn the institute’s highest safety rating, Top Safety Pick+, as early as 2017.
Of the assortment of new lighting technologies hitting the market, it is so-called adaptive headlights that are poised to be the most influential in the insurer-funded group’s new assessments. These are headlights that use a combination of cameras, steering sensors and electric motors to direct a beam of light around corners or bends in the road ahead.
“We’ve studied all of these different innovations to the extent we’re able, and the strongest signal we get back from the data is that the steerable headlights are associated with the largest reductions of crashes reported to insurers,” Zuby said.
Such steerable lights long have been an option on luxury cars — an early version even appeared on Preston Tucker’s futuristic 1948 Tucker Torpedo — but now, adaptive headlights also are appearing on more mainstream models ahead of the new IIHS ratings.
“We’ve talked to some automakers who are looking at lighting systems that they weren’t planning on doing for several years ... but they’re now looking at accelerating the availability of that technology,” Zuby said.
Fiat, Hyundai and Kia each debuted new or redesigned models with adaptive headlights at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show. Kia built dynamic bending headlights into the redesigned Sportage compact crossover that goes on sale in February, in part to get ahead of the new IIHS ratings release.
“Everybody is racing to add this technology to their cars,” Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning at Kia Motors America, said in an interview. “They are upping the ante at the IIHS, and it puts a lot of pressure on the industry to chase a moving target.”