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Your brain is incredibly busy when you drive a car: your brain sends messages to control muscles used to press pedals and turn the steering wheel; your brain receives information from your eyes and ears; your brain must pay attention to other cars and signals on the road. Inside of a car, gauges, display lights and sounds help drivers navigate roads safely. Outside of a car, streetlights, car lights, mirrors and noises help drivers. But accidents still happen. In fact, there are approximately 2,000,000 rear-end collisions in the United States each year. These rear-end crashes cost billions of dollars and cause almost 1,000,000 injuries and 2,000 deaths.
Scott E. McIntyre (City University of New York and Brooklyn College) may have a way to reduce the number of rear-end collisions: change the colors of brake lights and tail lights. Currently, when cars have their lights on, the tail lamp on the back of a car is red. When a car brakes, a brighter red brake lamp comes on. This brighter red lamp tells a driver to slow down because the car in front is coming to a stop or is already stopped.
McIntyre thought that having different colored tail lamps and brake lamps would be safer way to travel. To prove his theory, McIntyre compared the reaction times and numbers of errors that people made when they identified brake lamps in pictures in two different conditions:
When tail lamps and brake lamps were different colors (Condition 2), people were significantly faster and made significantly fewer errors detecting brake lamps than they did when tail lamps and brake lamps were the same colors (Condition 1).
Will yellow tail lamps and red brake lamps reduce the number of rear-end crashes? Maybe, but more tests, especially real world situations with cars on the road using this new combination of lights, must be done.
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Copyright © 1996-2008, Eric H. Chudler, University of Washington