High beam headlights: self-reported frequency of use, motivations for use, and opinions about advanced headlight technology

Reagan, Ian J. / Cicchino, Jessica B.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
October 2016

Objective: This study surveyed drivers in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area about their use of and motivations for using high beam headlights.
Methods: Telephone surveys were conducted during summer 2015 with 604 drivers. Respondents provided information about exposure to nighttime driving, concerns about seeing and crashing at night, prevalence of high beam use on specific area roads when isolated from other traffic, factors that might influence high beam use, and knowledge of and opinions about high beam assist (also called automatic high beam headlamps).
Results: Self-reported use of high beams varied by roadway environment, with 81% of drivers reporting they use high beams always or most of the time on winding rural roads with little or no street lighting, but only 22% saying they use them always or most of the time on city streets with little or no street lighting. The most common motivations for not using high beams were the belief that there was enough lighting in an environment or that drivers did not need them. The extra viewing distance offered by high beams and the avoidance of causing glare for other drivers were the most important factors that influenced drivers’ decisions of when to use high beams. A majority of drivers (60%) agreed that high beam assist sounded like an important safety feature, but only 43% agreed they would want the feature on their next vehicle.
Conclusion: A recent roadside study that observed cars driving in conditions where high beam use was appropriate found actual use to be very low (18%). The much higher rates reported by respondents in the current study indicates they overestimate how often they use high beams. Advanced headlight technologies could address the low use of high beams, but drivers may not accept them out of mistrust in automation.