Hidden headlight hazards dimming your view

Posted at 4:17 PM, May 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-18 16:17:36-04

Yessica Angel-Moreno, 16, was riding a bicycle at night when her world suddenly went dark.

"I feel empty, I feel a lot of pain," said her cousin Liliana Whitaker who four months later, is still searching for answers.

"In an instant it’s all gone, all gone," she said tearing up.

While a Florida sheriff's office is still investigating the crash, a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is giving Liliana hope that maybe her cousin wasn't to blame after a BMW struck and killed her at the Royal Palm Beach plaza near West Palm Beach, Florida. 

"He said he didn't see her. Why didn't you see her," she asked. 

"It turns out, headlights aren't performing as well as they could," said David Zuby, Chief Research Officer at the Institute for Highway Safety.

In fact, according to the study which tested headlight illumination from 31 different new car models, only one -- the Toyota Prius -- got a "good" rating.

While headlights on the BMW 3 series- the same model car that killed Yessica in January, rated worst in the study.

"I don't think people understand the importance of headlights to their safety when driving," said Richard Caberea.  He reconstructs car crashes for a living.

"It's clear without proper functioning headlights, you're putting yourself and others at risk," he told WCPO sister station, WPTV.

Right now, Florida law requires low beam headlights be bright enough for you to see at least 150 feet in front of you.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety now wants the federal government to adopt new headlight standards to accommodate brighter and more modern headlight systems on cars. Cabrera warns the more immediate concern is what naturally happens to headlights over time.

“The weakest link in the driving and headlight functioning chain is the fact that headlights degrade over time,” he says.

Dingy, faded headlights worn down from extensive UV exposure can impact your ability to see what's right in front of you, he says.

Using a Toyota Prius from our company fleet, WPTV put the headlights to the test.

WPTV Investigator Katie LaGrone got behind the wheel as crash reconstructionist Richard Cabrera started walking. 

At 50 feet, LaGrone was able to see Cabrera using her headlights with no problem. Seventy-five feet, no problem. At 150 feet, LaGrone was still able to see Cabrera. Then, Cabrera went dark.

“You were gone to me right after that 150 foot mark,” LaGrone told Cabrera.

Then, we did the same test from an aged 2005 Dodge Caravan.

By 100 feet, LaGrone was unable to see Cabrera with her low beams on.

The team attempted again, this time with LaGrone wearing white in an effort to increase visibility.

By just over 100 feet, LaGrone was unable to be seen from the behind the wheel of the stationary van.

“When you had the best chance to be seen [wearing white], you had no chance at all,” said Cabera who also pointed out that the van was stationary and Cabrera was expected to see LaGrone even when he couldn’t.  Expectation, Cabrera said, is critical when it comes to seeing at night from behind the wheel.

Liliana is still waiting to learn if headlights played a role in the crash that killed her cousin and turned off one of the brightest lights in the family.

"She was an angel borrowed from the sky and went up to heaven again.”

Experts suggest changing out your headlight covers and headlights every 5 years.

Here are the findings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's study of 31 car models:

RATING: Make/model

GOOD: Toyota Prius

ACCEPTABLE: Audi A3, Honda Accord 4-door, Infiniti Q50, Lexus ES, Mazda 6, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Outback (built after November 2015), Volkswagen CC, Volkswagen Jetta, Volvo S60

MARGINAL: Acura TLX, Audi A4, BMW 2 series, BMW 3 series, Chrysler 200, Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry

POOR: Buick Verano, Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Malibu Limited (fleet model), Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mercedes Benz C-Class, Mercedes Benz CLA, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat