The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that good or acceptable headlights must be standard equipment for vehicles to qualify for its 2020 Top Safety Pick+ award as it toughens criteria for its safety awards next year.
Good or acceptable-rated headlights may be optional for the IIHS' regular Top Safety Pick award, the institute said.
"In the past, a vehicle would get the award because it has the optional, available headlights. But this year, we want to see those headlights as standard equipment," Joe Young, media relations associate at IIHS, told Automotive News. "This is a good way to encourage automakers to stop equipping vehicles with crummy headlights that don't light the road."
"Decent headlights should be a given, and we hope this change to our criteria will push manufacturers to make them standard across their lineups," David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, said in a statement Wednesday.
The IIHS, based in Arlington, Va., is a nonprofit research organization that analyzes how to make motor vehicles safer.
This year, to earn an "advanced" rating in front crash prevention in both the Top Safety Pick+ and Top Safety Pick awards, vehicle-to-pedestrian automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems must be available. The IIHS started rating pedestrian AEB systems in February. The year 2020 will be the first those ratings will factor into the awards. Vehicle-to-vehicle AEB ratings have been considered in the awards since 2014.
"It's less than a year old but the technology has a lot of potential to reduce pedestrian crashes, which are often fatal or quite severe," Young said. "We wanted to get this into the Top Safety Pick criteria as quickly as possible to encourage automakers to equip their vehicles with these systems.
"They've already agreed to adopt front crash-prevention systems that recognize other vehicles as standard equipment by 2022," he said. "In many cases it's not a big leap for them to add these pedestrian-detection systems. It may just be a software change, for example."
Both the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards will require good crashworthiness ratings "across the board," IIHS said in the release.
In 2019, an acceptable rating in the passenger-side small overlap test — which launched officially as an awards rating in 2018 — was enough for a vehicle to qualify for Top Safety Pick. In 2020 that rating must be good for a vehicle to qualify for either award, IIHS said.
"It's a relatively new test, so we were still giving automakers some time to makes those adjustments and factor in that protection into their redesign," Young said.
The "good" rating in the passenger-side small overlap test requirement "completes a phase-in" of the test expected when it was first introduced in 2017, the release said.
A first round of winners for the Top Safety Pick awards — which began in 2006 — and the Top Safety Pick+ awards — started in 2013 — are usually announced in November or December of the previous year.
This year, IIHS won't announce the first round of 2020 winners until February, Young said, to give automakers more time to roll out designs.
"We'll have as many vehicles as can qualify in the initial crop," he said. "Every year we make changes to the criteria, and we also introduced the Top Safety Pick+ awards to help consumers differentiate between vehicles that perform really well and those that could use improvement."