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Friday, December 3, 2010

Brake Lights

Horse drawn carriages had brakes but they didn't have brake lights.  They didn't need them.  With early automobiles came increased speed and deceleration rates.  As they became more sophisticated those parameters increased enough so that it took more and more attention to effectively perceive closure with the stopped or slowing vehicle ahead.  Brake lights were installed for increased safety.  I'm sure they weren’t the first example, but brake lights are probably the most prolific example of an artificial and indirect connection with reality installed in the name of safety.  As time passed and traffic increased, drivers became dependent upon the brake lights to tell them if that vehicle ahead was decelerating.  In fact the NASCAR type tailgating routinely practiced on Texas freeways might be impossible without brake lights.  Most drivers today, I suppose, would be totally unable to drive in traffic without other cars having conspicuous brake lights.  That would require drivers to keep an adequate margin of safety and stay engaged (no cellphone??) with the situation enough to perceive closure with the other vehicles.  What's next, cars that stop themselves if you get too close to the vehicle ahead?  I am not going near the turn signal discussion here.  We now fly airplanes the same way.  We depend on a horn, beeper, light or EICAS message to tell us what the situation is.  Could we, as pilots, do any better without our artificial devices than drivers without brake lights to depend upon.  What's next, airplanes that don't need pilots?

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