Boolean Brake Lights Just Aren’t Enough

Have you ever driven behind a car that had its brake lights on for a really long time? Eventually, you conclude the driver is driving with both feet because the car keeps accelerating. Sure enough, as you pass the 1972 Cadillac, you realize that the 900 year old man driving it probably thinks the brake pedal is comfortable place to rest his foot.

Or, have you ever been behind one of those massive SUVs when the driver taps the brakes and you have no idea why? These 5 ton behemoths are hard to see around. In fact, the only way to see around them is to buy an even bigger SUV! But that is a different story. When the driver hits the brakes in front of you, it is usually not possible to tell why – even if you aren’t tailgating.

Lastly, have you ever been in a really bad traffic jam and just watched drivers’ brake usage patterns? In heavy traffic, you’ll see there are 3 basic types of drivers. There are those that use the brakes constantly, those that use the brakes sparingly, and a third group that seem to tap the brake pedals at fairly random intervals. I suspect these are individuals that are being cautious and careful. But because the lights on the back of their car are either “on” or “off”, the following drivers have no choice but to brake too. You just can’t discern what the driver is really thinking.

All of these examples showcase the fact that our system of boolean on-off brake lights is inadequate. While the cockpits of our cars have added MPG gauges and all sorts of bells and whistles, the driving indicators on the outside of the car remain completely un-evolved since their inception!

Here are some ideas for things we could do better.

First off, let’s start using more signals on the back of each car. Rather than knowing whether the driver has their foot on the brake pedal, I’d like to know if the car is accelerating or decelerating. If the driver has his foot on both pedals, who cares if one is on the brakes- the driver still may be speeding up. So how about a system which has:
– GREEN – accelerating
– ORANGE – decelerating 5%

I thought about making the third brake light be a differentiator to distinguish between mild brake usage and heavy brakes, but that would be incompatible with existing cars such that other drivers just wouldn’t know. The same argument could be made for my use of “red’.

Another thing I’d like to see on every bumper is a digital readout of two things. First, how fast the car is going, and second, the average speed of the car over the last 5 minutes. This somewhat assumes that speedometers are accurate, and these would be obviously ugly and prone to tampering. But, wouldn’t this be useful? Immediately, when you get behind another vehicle you’d be able to determine his approximate speed, and his “typical” speed in the last few minutes. Don’t think for a second that police officers wouldn’t start keying in off these things too.

Anyway, I think we should have better brake lights and gauges on the exterior of vehicles. In a traffic jam, being able to differentiate between silly brake pumping and real braking could really help us all drive more efficiently and more safely.

One thought on “Boolean Brake Lights Just Aren’t Enough

  • December 3, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Wow, this is pretty much what I’ve been wishing for for about 10 years (since seeing a chevy lumina van and thinking of the potential use for many rear lights). I get tired of not being able to discern what’s going on, just from a bunch of blinking red lights. I was hoping for a ‘stack’ of lights – the more of them are lit up, the stronger the person is braking or accelerating. 1 or 2 red lights is tapping the brake, all 4 or 5 is hard braking. Then 1 or 2 green lights for slow acceleration, and all 4 or 5 green for flooring it. But it is true that the actual current vehicle speed is a factor. And all vehicles would have to be calibrated often – how about during a yearly inspection? Anyway, anything would help, on/off lights are soo last century!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *