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Will New Brake Lights Lead to Fewer Car Accidents?

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In January, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the U.S. subsidiary of the German luxury car company a temporary exemption from U.S. automobile safety standards, allowing it to sell as many as 5,000 vehicles over the next two years that include brake lights that flash during emergency stops.

The NHTSA had originally refused to make a permanent change to its auto safety rule, which requires the steady illumination of vehicle lights, but relented when Mercedes said it wanted to show its flashing brake lights improve car safety by preventing rear-end crashes. Dubbed Adaptive Brake Lights, these brakes lights are only activated when the brake pedal is pushed heavily for a hard stop. The feature is already available in Europe in Mercedes S-class and CL-class cars.

“This is a classic case of lighting engineering moving faster than federal standards,” said Rae Tyson, a spokesperson for the NHTSA.

“We are seeing lot of new lighting innovations; some of them are allowed and some not,” Tyson added. “My understanding is [Mercedes] made a good case of allowing these brake lights to be used on a trial basis. Presumably they argued that flashing lights are just as visible, or perhaps more visible than regular lights. Whether they really are better remains to be seen, but we have faith in Mercedes engineering.”