Illustration for article titled The Case For an Automotive Idiot Light

“There should be some special indicator light on your car for when you are in the process of doing something stupid and are sorry for it,” the wonderful blogger Mimi Smartypants writes. Totally. Here’s why.


While it is a dreadfully overused hippie argument, there is in fact something about sitting inside a car that’s very detrimental to nonverbal communication. Sealed off from the body language and the noise of other humans, the motorist becomes isolated in his cage of steel and glass, and a curious case of mild sociopathy sets in.

You may be an excellent driver, but you can easily become an idiot yourself, and it may not even be your fault. Consider a trip I took with my wife Natalie the other day. She was driving her Fiat over to her mom’s place, I was riding shotgun, and we were coming off one of the bridges over the Danube into a tricky right-hand corner. Ahead of us, a car braked suddenly, and we had to do likewise to avoid a collision. A few seconds later, the same car swerved and cut across our lane. It was at this point that even I, normally about as chill in a car as Brad Pitt’s character Floyd in True Romance, got annoyed. When we passed the other car, I offered an exaggerated gesture of what-the-fuck-you’re-doing through the window, using both hands.


At that exact moment, I realized the other car was driven by a hapless German woman, obviously lost, baffled by Budapest’s heavy and random traffic. I felt terrible. I imagined the terrible abuse she must have been subjected to by drivers who will scream and honk at the slightest perceived injustice.

But I didn’t have much choice and neither did she. It was raining. Traffic was fast. Even if she was fully aware that she was driving like an idiot, she had no way of warning people behind her car, people she was putting in danger. When you’re lost and scared, you don’t want to take your hands off the instruments to offer a meek wave out the window.

The solution would be a standardized indicator light. In her blogpost, Mimi Smartypants continues:

Like when you suddenly realize that the GPS is serious about right turn ahead and “ahead” means “now” so you have to scoot across lanes and annoy people. And then sit in the right-turn lane with your butt still sticking out into the regular lane. Apologetic handwaves are the etiquette, but a button to push would be so helpful. It would indicate to other drives that you know you fucked up, and that there is no need to honk.


Think about it. When you see someone behaving idiotically, you probably wouldn’t worry much if you knew she was only temporarily idiotic. Anyone can become an idiot, in a strange part of town, for instance. It doesn’t mean that the condition is permanent. A permanent idiot wouldn’t use her idiot light anyway.

The color would have to be green. Yellow is already taken for danger, red for stop, blue for police cars, but green is relatively unused. It is also very soothing. In fact, the distribution of color sensitive cone cells in the human retina is heavily skewed toward green. We’re extremely sensitive to the color and it’s a calm color.


Designwise, it would be clever to place a high intensity green light in every corner of a car. City traffic could then perhaps change for the calmer. Fuck up a lane change? Have to break momentarily? No worries! Just hit the idiot light and your car will light up like the Arctic sky. Chill, dude. Just chill. No need to honk. Spare your middle fingers.

Photo Credit: Peter Orosz

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