Seeing red – new research aims to reduce impacts

car brake lights reflected in snow

The aim of most research is to achieve impact, but a new research project in the School of Computing aims for the opposite – to reduce impacts.

Palaniappan Ramaswamy, Ian McLoughlin and Howard Bowman have been given an award of £195k from the Road Safety Trust for “Using Cognitive Responses to Assess and Improve Vehicle Brake Light Designs”. The grant’s aim is to assess current LED brake lights and to improve the designs for better braking performance and the use of brain responses.

More than half of all road accidents are caused by either lack of driver attention or insufficient gap between vehicles. Collision from the rear is the most common cause of road accidents in the UK, yet should be among the most avoidable.

Brake lights indicate to a following driver that a vehicle is slowing down or stopping, to provide a warning to prevent accidents from the rear. Lamps historically used incandescent bulbs, but LEDs are becoming increasingly common.

However, very little research has been conducted on assessing the effectiveness of brake light design, and almost none has considered the effect of their design on brain perception. Yet a brake light must be noticed before it can be acted upon, and with so many accidents caused by the inattention of following drivers, the perception of new light designs is extremely important.

Palani Ramaswamy said; ‘The research is potentially very impactful considering that the findings could help to reduce loss of lives due to road accidents. We will study the influence on LED brake lights design on how quickly the signal is noticed, enabling the future design of improved brake lights to reduce response times.’