WASHINGTON -- Sometimes the roles get reversed. Automakers want to add safety devices. Regulators object.
Mercedes-Benz sought to equip its vehicles with brake lights that would rapidly flash on and off when a driver stopped suddenly. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rejected the proposal.
Mercedes argued that the flashing lights would allow motorists to ascertain whether the driver ahead was making a panic stop or braking normally. Mercedes says it has evidence that motorists would hit the brakes more quickly and avoid a rear-end crash.
But the agency replied that Mercedes had not proved that flashing lights would yield a major safety gain. So a federal rule that requires steady illumination of brake lights will stand.
"The company was disappointed by the decision," says Barry Felrice, director of regulatory affairs in DaimlerChrysler's Washington office. The European Union will allow flashing brake lights to indicate panic stops, Felrice notes.
Rear-end collisions account for more than 20 percent of all crashes, NHTSA says. They cause more than 1,600 deaths and nearly 700,000 injuries a year.
Federal regulators are studying possible remedies. They include adaptive cruise control devices that automatically slow vehicles that get too close to vehicles in front of them. Other systems would provide larger or more intense lights to signal emergency stops.
Says NHTSA Associate Administrator Steve Kratzke: "Some signal enhancements may have greater potential than simple flashing brake lamps."
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