Friday, February 5, 2016

Coffee Brake: The Amber Turn Signal

This is Coffee Brake, DT's weekly black hole of somewhat automotive related nonsense.  Back in the day when government agencies asked for public comment, the result was to some extent a joke.  Sure, if you knew the right people, lived in the correct town, you might be able to show up at some hearing or submit a letter, (or better yet, if you were a lawyer you could do something) but for the most part business went along as usual.  The internet has changed all that, and now when a goverment agency asks for feedback, they will darn well get some.  Take, for example, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) drafts its latest regulations, they put up a notice on regulations.gov for public comment.  You might will notice that it has gotten 20 comments, some of which are well written and persuasive, particularly a note written by a former Volvo engineer named Karl Donina.



Karl writes:
I am writing to provide perspective on the rear turn signal color. I was with Volvo in the 1960s and -70s mainly with vehicle and equipment specifications for the various regulations and market needs in North America. Before the advent of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, this meant specifying the vehicle configurations so they met all state standards. At that time, many state standards specified red for rear turn signals, but when FMVSS 108 came in for the 1968 model year and superceded different state standards, yellow became an allowable color nationwide. Volvo switched almost all US models immediately (the exception was the 1800, which was switched to yellow when the new 1800ES model came in 1972) because a yellow rear turn signal was more conspicuous and less ambiguous, and Volvo was pursuing a safety-first philosophy. This was not done as a cost-saving or parts-consolidation measure. There still had to be US-specific rear lamp assemblies because of different photometric requirements for SAE versus the European ECE standards. The difference between the '67 and '68 models was just a different color of plastic for the turn signal portion of the multi-function rear lamp assemblies. There was no cost saving or penalty. From 1968 until this year, Volvo used only yellow rear turn signals in the US.

Now this year, the new XC-90 came out, with red rear signals as described on https://tinyurl.com/hsw9ojk (see attached). After I went and confirmed this is in fact the case -- despite a large rear lamp with ample room for a US-size yellow rear turn signal, they have chosen to use red -- I wrote to Volvo expressing my dismay about it. As you can see (attached), they basically blew me off: Get lost, buzz off, they're winning awards with the XC-90. Look at their claims that the XC-90 is "the best of what Volvo has to offer" (No, the rear turn signals are not the best, and Volvo knows it) "the beautiful design" (which apparently takes precedence over optimal crash avoidance through yellow turn signals Volvo chose for safety reasons almost half a century ago) and "exceptional safety features" (except for the demonstrably inferior turn signals).

Clearly this is how makers see it: red and yellow are equally as legal, so it's an ornamental feature like paint color or the wheel styling or the typeface on the nameplates. Car buyers who know and care about the difference are left out in the cold -- the makers clearly don't care because they don't have to, and the level of follow-the-herd benchmarking in today's auto industry is such that they all pretty much copy what each other is doing. This is true even as the industry has come right out and said yellow (amber) turn signals do a better job, as GM did 17 years ago on the GMC Yukon (attached, a GM press release archived at https://tinyurl.com/p752kzc ). then they changed the Yukon back to red with the next design refresh!

I went to the NAIAS Auto Show in Detroit this past week, and was disappointed to see a big proliferation of red turn signals. All Audis, all Mercedes, all VW, all BMW except the low-volume i3 and i8, all Porschss, all have red. The high-volume Honda Fit has switched from yellow to red. The high-volume Chevy Cruze, yellow up to now, has been changed to red except the hatchback. Numerous models from GM, Ford, FCA, Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, and other makes use red. Many of them are package-protected so they COULD be yellow with a snap decision and scant or zero extra expense...maybe it'll be next year's "facelift"? Appropriate policy should not let safety devices be treated as ornamental playtoys.

There is no effective mechanism for the consumer to demand things like yellow turn signals. So I am encouraged to see NHTSA considering adding such a mechanism, though I am discouraged to see it is such a weak and partial one. Yellow rear turn signals are clearly better than red ones. There is a lot of high-quality research, going back decades, showing this to be the case, for just two examples see https://tinyurl.com/hgtpxs2 (UMTRI) and https://tinyurl.com/ztqc7pw (SAE). There's the practical crash-data study NHTSA did in 2009, validating that research. Every other civilized country and most developing countries have required yellow for many years. Really, NHTSA should sunset the allowance for red rear turn signals, not with a tentative half-step like this NCAP proposal, but decisively and finally, for all vehicles starting from whatever effective date.

I don't seem alone in these views; please see https://tinyurl.com/gpaprb3 and https://tinyurl.com/jb9peta and https://tinyurl.com/htw9qaq and (closer to NHTSA's home) https://tinyurl.com/z6zgl6x and comments at https://tinyurl.com/goe2yq2 .

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my perspectives, for whatever they might be worth in NHTSA's process.

The argument about aesthetics versus safety has been settled (no more pedestrian spearing hood ornaments) and amber turn signals probably make more sense, so you have to wonder if the NHTSA is really cowing to the demands of Detroit designers, or if basic incompetence is more likely.  Regardless, you have through Feb 16, 2016 to make a comment of your own on the regulations.gov website. Tip of the hat to DCCarGeek on Oppositelock for finding the above comment from Karl.

21 comments:

  1. I'm an amber turn signal fan, but to the extent that anyone thinks red turn signals are a good idea, I invite you to look at the horrid red mass that extends across the back of the '00-06 Lincoln LS.

    Great car, cheap looking POS ass.

    ReplyDelete
  2. {goes off now to voice support of the thoughtful argument provided by Karl}

    ReplyDelete
  3. I wish the NHTSA would get with the rest of the modern world. US spec lights are shit on all sides of the car, and have been going back decades. What really irks me is that they don't care about things which help drivers, instead focusing on weighing cars down with more airbags.

    Gotta say, I love being blinded by poorly patterned light from a too-tall incoming SUV. Not like it matters, because my car has such terrible visibility due to obscenely fat pillars and a beltline that's 7/8 up the side of the car.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If I stick my arm out the window to signal (what kind of real man would fumble with a wimpy plastic stick hidden somewhere behind the steering circle) does it matter if I have on a red shirt or an amber shirt?

    Do they even make amber shirts?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just sold the sister to this baby poop 1800 and I put the amber lenses on it like this one, changing it from the solid red it had originally. I wondered when they went Amber as the ESs have an amber section.
    I see a blinker red or Amber it doesn't matter to me.
    What I find disturbing now is the running light going off in the front when the blinker is on.
    Also , my outback has a "fog" light that turns on when you turn 5 degrees of more ...silly, like you would then see something and avoid it too late or crash avoiding it...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The baby poop color has grown on me over the years - as well as its damson yellow Triumph equivalent -
      [img size="50%"]http://car-from-uk.com/ebay/carphotos/full/ebay990849.jpg[/img]

      Delete
    2. [img]http://car-from-uk.com/ebay/carphotos/full/ebay990849.jpg[/img]

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    3. Jasmine yellow.

      Really, I know what I'm talking about.

      Is it 5pm yet?

      Delete
    4. It is somewhere in the world. Commence firing.

      Delete
    5. Zach...trust me that Triumph color is not Volvo 100 yellow. Volvo baby poop is non metallic baby poop, fresh in the diaper.

      Delete
    6. Not saying it is the same 'creamy french mustard yellow', just saying it's grown on me with time.

      Delete
  6. I absolutely support the "amber is superior to red" signal argument. It's simple logic that has been proven though study and time. The color red has been imbedded in our brains to mean "stop". How many times have you been behind a car with one or more lights burned out or broken? Red turn signals make that situation even worse and harder to decipher in a split second. "Is this car turning or stopping?" It's time to have the NHTSA push for this simple change and disallow manufacturers from using red on turn signals. Now, if only people would use the turn signals...

    Much more important than the amber/red signal issue is the problem with manufacturers using clear lenses over LED brake lights. Yes, LED lights are typically brighter and illuminate faster than the old style bulbs, however, they should still be mounted behind red lenses. Too many new cars have insufficient brake lights during daylight hours. Don't believe me? Drive behind a Nissan Leaf on a sunny day and watch for the brake lights. The Leaf is the worst offender I've found when it comes to unsafe/hard to see lights, but there are many more like it. LEDs need to be used in conjunction with red lenses for maximum intensity. Safety needs to prevail over design in this case.

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  7. Guess there's a reason why school buses use the amber signal to boot.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Guess there's a reason why school buses use the amber signal to boot.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I remember having an epiphany re how amber turn signals were superior when driving through a Montreal snowstorm in the late 1970s. The snow was so heavy that it was very difficult to tell if a brighter red light was a turn signal, someone pumping the brake, regular brakelights with one bulb burnt out, or just taillights which were MUCH CLOSER THAN YOU REALISED.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Then your brain makes this noise
      https://youtu.be/_al9owcieHQ

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    2. Then your brain makes this noise
      https://youtu.be/_al9owcieHQ

      Delete
  10. On a related topic, up here in the Snow Belt, many highway plow vehicles recently have been converted to LED lights (more modern, more efficient, blah blah blah). However we are just now figuring out a small problem: LEDs don't generate any heat. As a result those important warning lights spend most of their active life masked by the snow that blows onto them as part of the plowing process. Don't ya love progress?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Many of the comments on the NHTSA website refer to poorly maintained vehicles (burn out bulbs, broken lenses, etc.,), outdated technology, and poor driving skills.

    A burnt out amber signal is just as useless as a burnt out red one. An amber signal that's never used is as useless as a red one that's never used. A broken amber lens provides no advantage over a broken read one. And then there's those who "smoke" their lenses so you can't see if they're lit or not until you're super close behind them. Smoked amber is likely no better than smoked red. Besides, when the driver (and I use the word loosely) is texting or reading emails on their phone, what difference does it make? They're a distracted driver anyway.

    With all the nanny garbage that is presently being installed on the current crop of vehicles, who is going to restore these cars when they get older? Who will be able to fix them when the keyless entry no longer functions and there's no key hole? There's no ignition switch and an electronic steering wheel lock. The electric parking brakes....

    I'm keeping my old BMW until there are no longer any parts available for it. It actually has a steering shaft attached to a steering rack, brakes that work with the engine off, a parking brake that is *gasp* "manual", no silly cameras (that's why they put windows in cars) that stay on after you've moved from reverse (yes, I have a car that randomly does that), no "MFD" that goes dark and you can't adjust the heat, AC, or radio (yep, randomly does that too), no flashing "BRAKE" light that goes off when the car detects a street sign (yes, does that too). Then there's the multitude of sensors that won't let you power through a corner because the car thinks you're such an incompetent driver that you'll flip the car (but what it doesn't know is that you're trying not to get t-boned), a shift lever actually mechanically connected to something as opposed to a console mounted switch that only looks like a shift lever. And my favorite nanny device? The brakes that lock up when the car detects an imminent collision - but the only thing that happened is you made a right turn into one lane and another car made a left turn into the adjacent lane. Try explaining that to the red faced driver behind you who's MFing you because he almost rear ended your car because it - not you - decided to stop on a dime.

    People who want self driving cars should realize that they already have them. They're called buses, trains, airplanes, taxis, and Uber.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Let's just go back to trafficators.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm going to have a man walk in front of me with a red flag.

      Delete

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