I do a considerable amount of driving on a daily basis. This gives me a lot of exposure to other peoples driving habits and how we interact with each other. I see a lot of opportunity for improvement. Also, I am inclined towards solving problems by applying technological fixes rather than delving into behavioral modification. This is a fine line to walk. Some people wish to use technological methods for modifying behavior, I believe this to be inherently wrong. It leads to things like dings, and bells to remind the driver the doors open, seat belt isn’t fastened, and other irritants that make driving less pleasant. On the other hand, the more controls that are installed, the more the driver will fuck something up. Technological fixes have to be designed to be transparent, useful, and not annoying.
Currently cars have only a few ways to convey what the drivers are doing to other drivers. (Double entendre intended) Most of this technology was invented before the transistor. Passenger safety advancements have been made in vehicle safety such as anti-lock brakes, Air bags, seat belts, whiplash arresters, and roll over protection, but little in the way communication. Signaling other drivers hasn’t advanced at all. Brake lights and turn signals are basically the only pieces if information that is actually integrated into the design all cars. And using the turn signal is optional. I personally think it would be valuable to have additional indicators available for those who choose them. And I am not talking about hand (finger) signals.
The only advance in turn signal technology over the last 60 years is the little feature where the turn signal turns off (middle position) when you straighten out from a turn. Why not take that one step further and have the turn signal arm return to the center position after it is left on for a period of time? I one had a car that would ding repeatedly when the signal was left unattended. I distinctly remember spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what was causing the dam dinging. Then felt really stupid when it turned out to be the turn signal. Stop the madness, don’t ding, just move to the off position.
I think it would be great for brake lights to be on the front of the car as well as the back. That way when some asshole cuts you off on the freeway they get treated to bright red lights in their rear view mirror as you stomp on your brake. There are many times where the person in front of you needs to know that you’re stopping, without relying on just their depth perception.
Back when brake lights were first used in cars the technology was limited to a switch on the brake pedal that supplies power to glowing filament light bulbs. This is just a little more advanced than yelling “whoa”. Now we have many other options, like multi-color ultra-bright LEDs, that can be controlled by computer. Many cars are using LEDs for brake lights, but they are not using all the technology available.
I propose to do away with the switch on the brake pedal all together. The brake lights should reflect accelerometer data, not your foot position. There is no visual indicator of how hard someone is pressing the brakes, and each car is different. However, if the rear tail lights simply change color and brightness according to accelerometer data, it would be valuable info. For example the tail lights could be yellow when there is no relative acceleration, then change gradually to bright red as the negative Gs increase. Even flash red if excessive stopping force is detected. Conversely I think it would be great if these same lights transitioned from yellow to bright green upon acceleration. This would be a valuable indicator that someone is actually getting the hell out of your way. Note: this would not indicate speed, just acceleration.
These simple addition would be completely transparent to the vehicle operator. And unlike the turn signal it would not require any input from the driver, which greatly reduces the chance of them fucking it up. It provides much needed information for other drivers, while not being confusing or distracting.
What do you think?