Aging headlights pose risk for motorists and pedestrians, AAA says

New research from AAA suggests that a lot of motorists are driving at night with aging headlights that barely illuminate the road, increasing the risk of collisions, including potentially deadly ones with pedestrians.

In laboratory testing on two popular vehicles that were about 11 years old, AAA found that about 22 percent of the light generated by the bulb reaches the roadway from a headlight that has deteriorated.

That's because over time, sunlight damages the plastic coatings of most headlights, turning them a frosty or yellowish tint that also becomes opaque. The organization said drivers should consider replacing older headlights with original manufacturer parts and urged motorists to add headlights to the list of routine maintenance that people expend on changing oil and tires.

"There's a whole lot going on with headlight safety," John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in an interview. "What we're saying is that many people don't know that their headlights could be problematic."

AAA researchers conducted the tests using a 2007 Nissan Altima and a 2007 Chevrolet Malibu with ages close to the average age - 11.6 years - of most vehicles on the road today, Townsend said.

The research comes as the federal safety officials and others have called for more attention to vehicle standards for headlights and their role in preventing

deadly crashes with pedestrians. An estimated 6,000 pedestrians died last year in motor vehicle crashes, despite initiatives by cities such as Washington, Los Angeles and New York to reduce traffic fatalities.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said in a report issued last month that slightly more than half of all 2018-model vehicles met its adequacy standards in illuminating the roadway and limiting glare for oncoming drivers, but it noted that the better systems came as optional features or packages that boosted the price of the vehicles.

In September, the National Transportation Safety Board called for better federal automotive standards for vehicle headlights as a follow-up to a recent investigation of several fatal pedestrian crashes. The NTSB said that instead of lab tests that focused solely on the illumination power of headlight systems, the systems should be road-tested and designed to make sure that they properly illuminate the roadway.

The NTSB's recommendations came as part of a comprehensive study of fatal pedestrian crashes, including several in the Washington region. The NTSB examined 15 crashes, symbolic of the number of pedestrian deaths a day in the United States at the time the review began in May 2016. By the time the agency had completed its investigation, the average had risen to 16.