Pretty Flashing Brake Lights!

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Recently by Eric Peters: Heroes … Not

My pal Dom alerted me to a new annoyance – inevitably touted (and likely, soon to be mandated) as a “safety” measure: Third brake lights that flash or blink instead of merely illuminating, along with the main brake lights. He posted a video of this phenomenon over at Clover Cam, in case you’re interested in seeing this latest example of “safety” technology that arguably is going to make the roads a lot less safe.

How so?

Visual clutter. Too much input to process – so instead of being noticed, the input is ignored.

An example: Those of a certain vintage will remember the world before always-on headlights – Daytime Running Lamps, or DRLs – came into play. Back then, you could easily pick out a funeral procession or emergency vehicle – because they were the only vehicles that operated in the daytime with their lights on. They and motorcycles – which were as a result also easier to notice – which made things safer for them and everyone else.

Of course, in those dread dark days of yore, people were also expected to pay attention – which today is apparently too much to expect.

Thus, today, it is much harder – impossible, even – to identify which cars are lined up in a funeral procession even when one is paying attention, because every car – well, almost every car – has its headlights on despite it being broad daylight.

Motorcycles are invisible – easily lost in the glare of all those always-on headlights.

Ironic, isn’t it?

DRLs were sold as a way to make cars more visible. In practice, having everyone running around with their lights on has only made individual cars (and all motorcycles) less visible, increased visual clutter and made the driving environment more chaotic.

Which is exactly what will happen when the no-goodniks in DC decide to mandate the blinking third eye. They haven’t yet – but rest assured, it’s coming. A political Clover loves nothing more than “safety” – whether actually safe or not. We got saddled with third-eye brake lights (CHMSLs) this way, too. Bet on blinking CHMSLs in the near future.

Then, imagine being in a pack of cars, in heavy traffic – with literally dozens of blinking, flashing brake lights assaulting your optic nerve and overwhelming your brains’ ability to process.

There is a reason why cop cars and emergency vehicles use flashing lights: They are disorienting to the driver being pulled over. Which is, you know, the opposite of what you’d like when it comes to encouraging a driver trying to maintain his focus on the task at hand.

The flaw – the fly in the pie – is the same as with DRLs. If you have a single car coming down an empty road, it will indeed be more visible – and sooner – if it is running with its lights on. The problem is that America is no longer a land of single cars toodling down empty (or even mostly empty) roads. One car with its lights on is easy to pick out. One car with its headlights on in a sea of cars with their headlights on is invisible. Worse than that, actually. Because DRLs create glare – a problem that was nonexistent before DRLs were force-fed to the American driver. (General Motors is the guilty party here. Because DRLs are required by law in Canada – and because GM sells a lot of cars in Canada – GM figured it would be cheaper to build all its cars with DRLs … rather than build cars with DRLs for Canada and cars without them for the US. That’s how – and why – we got saddled with DRLs – which GM touted as a “safety” feature. Other automakers followed suit.)

Read the rest of the article Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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