Every car has hazard lights. They’re useful for not getting run over when your car’s dead on the side of the road, or alerting other motorists that you’re in distress. That’s because they get attention. So why don’t we make them come on during hard braking too, just as an extra precaution?
Here’s why I ask. A little over a month ago, I was driving on the highway in the left lane on a sunny day. Traveling at highway speeds of around 70 to 75 mph, I was following a Range Rover at a good distance of about 100 feet.
Suddenly, a Honda CR-V from the right lane swerved in front of the Range Rover and then I couldn’t see it anymore. The Range’s brake lights came on. I immediately pressed on the brake in response, thinking that it was just a slowdown. But then, a second later, the Range Rover loomed in front of me, getting bigger and closer really quickly, and I realized that he had slammed on his brakes.
I increased pressure on my own brake pedal as the back of the SUV came closer and closer and closer—and then with a squeal of tires we came to a dead stop, the nose of my car pointed into the shoulder in case we didn’t have enough room. We weren’t more than five feet away from the Range Rover’s back bumper. My brother was in the front seat with me. We both let out sighs of relief.
I checked my rearview mirror and, thankfully, the closest car was still about 300 feet away. A second later, the CR-V swerved haphazardly back across the highway to pull off into the opposite shoulder. It looked like something had gone wrong with its front axle, but I wasn’t sure.
I know that certain cars, certain Fiat, BMW and Mercedes models (and even this crazy Mazda RX-500 concept) have hazard lights that come on depending on how hard you push the brake pedal. I think that’s an extremely useful feature in highway emergency situations like the one I just described.
Neither the Range Rover nor my Mercedes had emergency hazards that came on under braking like that. If there was someone following closely behind me whose brakes perhaps didn’t work as well or maybe wasn’t as prepared, there could have been a crash.
Why isn’t this a standard feature in all cars? Most of the time, when people see brake lights on the highway, they aren’t expecting a rapidly stopping vehicle, they’re expecting a slight slow down. If they saw hazards, they could be warned from afar and have more time to react.
Some states don’t allow drivers to drive with their hazards on, and that’s fine. The hazards don’t need to stay on forever. Just until traffic starts moving again or when the driver manually shuts them off. Ideally, they would just be an additional visual heads-up for other drivers.
A few extra safety steps never hurt anybody.