Smart Brake Lights

I was driving on Mass Pike, when the cars in front of me stopped abruptly. I hit the brakes and was lucky to escape the situation without a scratch.

Actually, it wasn’t just luck. First of all, I always keep a safe distance from the other cars. Second, if I see the brake lights of the car in front of me, I automatically remove my foot from the gas pedal and hold it over the brake pedal until I know what the situation is.

On a highway, if the car in front of me has its brake lights on, usually that means that the driver is adjusting their speed a little bit. So, most of the time I don’t have to do anything. Seeing that the car in front of me has its brake lights on is not a good predictor of what will happen next. Only after I see that the distance between me and the car in front of me is decreasing rapidly, do I know to hit my brakes. That means that brake lights alone are not enough information. Differentiating between insignificant speed adjustments and serious braking requires time and can cost lives.

I have a suggestion. Why not create smart brake lights. The car’s computer system can recognize the difference in the strength with which the brakes are hit and the lights themselves can reflect that. They can be brighter or a different color or pulsing, depending on the strength of the pressure.

The drivers behind will notice these things before they will notice the decrease in the distance. This idea could save lives.

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7 Comments

  1. Anonymous:

    It seems that this idea has been around for quite a while:
    http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/archives/002370.html

  2. Tanya Khovanova:

    Thanks, Anonymous.

    I am not too surprise. It makes sense, and shouldn’t be difficult to do.

  3. Felipe Pait:

    I am not so sure. The main requirement for a proper human-machine interface is simplicity, especially the critical security mechanisms. Trying to convey too much information with the lights may set you thinking too much and slow down response times.

  4. Andrew:

    I seem to remember reading in the past that your idea is illegal, at least in the United States. Indicator lights have to be fully on or off, they can’t communicate information by brightness.

  5. Tanya Khovanova:

    Andrew, thank you. I didn’t realize that such thing could be illegal.

  6. Sean:

    There is an aftermarket add on for motorcycles that pulses the brake depending on how hard the stop is, http://www.vizi-tec.com/supabrake-2/ it is still a good idea. Hell I think there should be brake lights on the FRONT of vehicles as well.

  7. David:

    I’m not convinced this is a better solution than maintaining an appropriate following distance and reacting promptly to this distance decreasing. Some sort of reliable computerized sensor which brakes for you in appropriate situations (the complexity of what would constitute an appropriate situation is perhaps why this isn’t yet a widely-implemented feature) seems like it would be more effective as a solution to the problem you’ve outlined. I’m worried that in order to communicate incremental braking, the efficacy of brake lights would be damaged. The information that the car in front of you is braking would be corrupted, so to speak. If we can agree that there is a certain brightness which brake lights ought to be in order to best alert the car behind that one is braking, then isn’t any brightness less than this optimal one a riskier option? I would have some worries about such brake lights being widely implemented!