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Ergonomics. 1994 Jun;37(6):989-94.

Reaction times to neon, LED, and fast incandescent brake lamps.

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  • 1University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Ann Arbor 48109-2150.


Standard incandescent brake lamps have a relatively slow rise time. It takes approximately a quarter of a second for them to reach 90% of asymptotic light output, causing potential delays in responses by following drivers. The present study evaluated reaction times to brake signals from standard incandescent brake lamps and from three alternative brake lamps with substantially faster rise times: neon, LED, and fast incandescent. The study, performed in a laboratory, simulated a daytime driving condition. The subject's task was to respond as quickly as possible to the onset of either of two brake lamps in the visual periphery, while engaged in a central tracking task. Brake signals were presented at two levels of luminous intensity. The results showed that reaction times to the alternative brake lamps were faster than to the standard incandescent lamp, with the advantage averaging 166 ms for the LED and neon lamps, and 135 ms for the fast incandescent lamp. A reduction of the signals' luminous intensity from 42 cd to 5 cd increased the reaction time by 84 ms.

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