Dear Car Talk:
Why don't cars come with brake lights on the front end as well as the back end?
Seems like that could prevent a lot of accidents at four-way stops, at crosswalks and at streets with left turn lanes. -- Mary
It's an interesting idea, Mary.
It would provide useful information at four-way stops. It would let pedestrians in crosswalks know that a driver sees you and is slowing down. And it would let an oncoming motorist know that a person making a left turn sees them coming and is waiting before crossing traffic.
There are two potential downsides I can think of. One is that if you put brake lights on the front of the car, at night, you wouldn't know if a car was coming or going. And if you think drunk drivers are a menace now ...
Imagine seeing headlights and brake lights at night and not knowing if it's two cars or the same car. Now imagine that in the rain.
I suppose you could address that by using a unique signal -- something other than a red light. But that leads to the second potential drawback: Information overload.
Drivers are already processing a lot of information when they drive -- assuming they're paying attention. And right now, the signals from other cars are pretty straightforward. You've got headlights, which means the car is coming at you, taillights, which means the car is traveling in the same direction you are, brake lights for stopping, and turn signals. Add another light signal to read and it's possible you could confuse people.
Maybe not. But rest assured that a change like this would not be made without years' worth of study and research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation. They're loathe to make changes like this unless they have proven, real-world value. And no negative effects on safety.
The other factor is that, increasingly, we're giving up on humans and turning over the decision-making to computers. The emphasis right now, rather than adding information for humans to process, is to take human brains out of the equation.
That's why there are now safety systems that detect pedestrians and stop the car if the driver doesn't. And systems that stop the car if you pull out from a four-way stop and are heading toward another vehicle.
In the not too distant future, cars will communicate directly with each other, letting a nearby car know its proximity, direction and speed. And automatically transmitting an obscene gesture on your behalf when another car's computer cuts off your car's computer. Isn't life grand?