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The History of Brake Lights

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brake lights

Brake are one of the most important safety features in the automotive industry

Before there were lane departure warning systems, blind spot monitoring, and rearview cameras, the automotive world had one of the most important safety technologies to ever be invented—brake lights. While rear brake lights are commonplace in today’s vehicles, it wasn’t always so. In fact, the history of brake lights is interesting and diverse.

The first brake lamps appeared as early as 1905, though the requirements for brake lamps took a bit longer to catch on. For many drivers, hand signals were a significant enough warning to other drivers of their intent to stop or turn. This reliance on hand signals made it difficult for many drivers to enjoy their automobiles at night, though, making the brake light a necessity.

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By 1928, 11 states in the United States had made brake lights a requirement on cars. These lights, which were different from modern tail lamps, were typically manually illuminated by the driver rather than automatically illuminated like they are now. While this method wasn’t perfect, it was the beginning of the brake lights evolution.

While the development of the first brake light isn’t exactly known, there is one important brake light feature that has a storied history—the third brake light. Psychologist John Voevodsky first introduced the third brake light, which is a requirement on modern-day vehicles, to the automotive industry in 1974. Voevodsky studied the effects of driving on attention, testing a small, inexpensive gadget on 343 taxicabs in San Francisco. This new light, which would eventually become the third brake light, made it easier for other drivers to recognize if the car in front of them was slowing down.

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A 10-month study was then executed to examine the third brake light’s effectiveness, randomly assigning taxis with or without the extra brake light. It was discovered that the third brake light caused 60.6% less rear-end collisions. After discovering the increased safety the third brake light provided, it quickly became a requirement on all automobiles.

Now, brake lights are a commonplace safety feature—but don’t let its prevalence fool you! This safety system is much more important than any current safety technology, allowing us to stay safe out on the road.