A new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that some car headlights did not perform as expected.
The institute -– well-known for crash-testing cars to see how well they protect occupants in a collision –- tested the performance of 82 sets of headlights on 31 new, midsize cars of varying models at its research center in Virginia. The results were "dismal," the institute said.
Of the 31 cars tested, the Toyota Prius was the only model to receive a good rating by the institute -- but only when the car was equipped with LED lights and high-beam assist (an added cost for the consumer). When the Prius was tested with regular halogen lights and without high-beam assist, it earned a poor rating.
The halogen lights on the BMW 3 series was ranked the worst among the 44 headlight systems that were tested. But another BMW 3 series that was equipped with a swivel LED system tested in the top third.
Headlights were evaluated on a track after dark. A special device measured the light from low and high beams as the car was driving in five different patterns: traveling straight, a sharp left curve, a sharp right curve, a gradual left curve and a gradual right curve.
Researchers fear the poor-performing headlights could be a danger to drivers at high speeds. A motorist going 60 miles per hour on the highway may not have enough time to stop to avoid a hazard.
IIHS said a headlight set on low beam should provide illumination for at least 330 feet on a straightaway.
There are government regulations about how much light a headlight blub puts out but there is no standard for how far it must reach when installed on the car. Better illumination at night and in the early morning hours can help prevent accidents, IIHS said. Nearly 50 percent of all accidents happen at dusk or in the dark, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. IIHS recommends that drivers use their car's high beams more frequently to improve visibility on the road.
Matthew Brumbelow, a senior research engineer at IIHS, told ABC News that the institute was "surprised" by the results.
"So you could have the same light, aim it differently, have it at a different height and you'll get a totally different amount of visibility on the road," Brumbelow said. "Hopefully, you'll have time to swerve out of the way. But you may not have time to stop if an obstacle suddenly appears."
Carmakers are already paying attention to the results, Brumbelow noted.
"We believe that the new headlight rating system will encourage better headlight designs and that we'll even be able to look five years from now at the crash data and hopefully see the reduction that's happened," he explained.
In a statement to ABC News, BMW wrote: “The BMW Group has been an industry leader for headlight technology innovation for more than four decades. While we are disappointed with the results of the IIHS headlight test of a BMW 3 Series equipped with basic halogen headlights, we remain confident that we offer our customers very effective headlight systems at a variety of price points.”