I was first introduced to deceleration lights in Ottawa Canada where the inventor and manufacturer demonstrated the hook-up and spoke to the advantages and safety of their Ohmics Intelligent MotoBrake Light. When I left I was ready to purchase two sets, one for each of the F700GS bikes.
However the next day I started (as usual) to do due diligence and research the subject further. I found other products marketed as deceleration lights although only one other was similar, the Volo Lights. So before I even started to evaluate the usefulness of these lights I realized that there is a standardization of terminology issue going on in the industry as well as a standard for signal patterns. For example, Trail Blazer Deceleration Warning Lights is actually a module that flashes much like a back-off brake module that has being used for years but they are marketed as a deceleration warning system. This system requires a user initiation.
As a technical writer of processes I always like to start at the beginning of a process and define an objective, establish the parameters and finally setout the process. I often do this in my head but I will try and put it down on paper.
As a motor-bike rider lights are used to communicate with other riders and drivers on the road. I see three variables here:
- Can other riders and drivers see the lights clearly?
- Do all drivers and riders understand what the lights mean?
- Does the motor-bike rider practice safe riding and check mirrors, allow proper distance, tap brakes and use the signals when required.
I think for years we have struggled with the first variable since power was always an issue on bikes. The manufacturers put on the legally required lights and reflectors without spending a penny more than they were required to by law. This is unfortunately consumer driven since the bikes are so competitively priced one would not want to lose a sale over the additional costs of manufacturing a better lighting system. So this is where aftermarket lights became desirable and now with the addition of high intensity LED lights and computer modules the field is wide-open.
Wanting to have my signals visible, I installed extra bright (brightest I could buy) turn signals front and back by Dynamic Motorrad. I also installed front wide spread Fenix Bullet lights and I just purchased Skene P3s rear running and brake lights. Additionally I have put tasteful reflective tape on the back and front of my Panniers and Top Box.
At this particular point in time I believe that all my lights and reflectors will be seen by riders and drivers in front and behind. However, the second important criteria to consider is will the riders and drivers understand my system of light communication and will I consistently apply different levels of braking to indicate my intentions just as I use my turn signals? I feel the answer is yes to both. This is an important factor and one that influenced me to purchase the base level Skene P3 lights with the running and braking module and NOT the optional turn signal module. My reasoning is that turn signals are supposed to be yellow and not red and with the Skene P3 system, the module would flash the applicable light on the side of the license plate to indicate I am turning, but in red. Red to me means braking and therefore may be confusing if used as a turn signal and even cause an accident.
When evaluating the decelerating systems I used the same criteria and I came to the following conclusions and decided not to purchase one just yet. I understand that technology is taking over and that for riders with really bad habits that the decelerating lighting systems may save their lives. But is it not better to focus on improving one’s driving habits rather than avoiding the issue and installing technology to compensate? I found these questions difficult to answer and often I switched sides as the debate ran through my mind.
First, these units all have different patterns and flashing or dimming features. In fact, with the Omhics Braking system the user can interface with a computer and customize each of the three different modes, Brake Activated, Deceleration Activated and deceleration activated with applied brakes, each having different signal patterns. Now the Volo system has a different set of signals. So what is a follower of such a wide variety of systems to think? There is no standard. Perhaps if a standard was established and taught in driving schools and appeared on a driving test then it would make more sense to me.
Here is my personal take (not to be interpreted as fact) on this product and I am certain that the debates on both sides of the decelerator products will continue for years.
- It’s very simple as to what you want to convey to car drivers. You are either accelerating (applying gas) or you are braking (and thus slowing down) or turning. For those that rely on engine braking to slow themselves down gradually with no brake activation are not practicing safe riding habits in a traffic scenario. Alone on country roads is a bit different and that is where good driving habits will dictate the use of braking applications and to what degree. I was taught that it is always required to be looking in the rear view mirrors (both sides) prior to down shifting or braking to evaluate the possible outcome of a high intensity deceleration and to always tap the brake pedal accordingly. I always tap my rear brake pedal which will initiate the very bright Skene P3s to indicate that I am in fact braking. I never brake in a corner and I always brake before the corner in plenty of time to warn riders or drivers behind me that I am slowing down (whether engine braking or braking-braking). I intend to program my P3s to flash once then stay bright during the braking process so as not to overdue the flashing red lights.
- Riders and drivers understand that orange blinking lights on the right side mean turn right and left side turn left. They know that a high intensity red light indicates braking and some people know that a blinking high intensity red light also means braking. However, even the blinking red light from a distance could be interpreted as a police vehicle or an emergency situation and it is possible that that in itself may cause an accident when a car who may be speeding sees the blinking light in a distance and suddenly slams the brakes. But I am not too concerned about this scenario because they should not be speeding in the first place and normally they are far behind.
- A safe rider will indicate when decelerating to any degree (especially in traffic) and they will be using their brake from super light application to heavy and everything in between to clearly convey to cars what they are doing and it is that plain and simple.
- A friend of mine Mike Fritz rides with his buddy who does not practice good braking and will often perform hard engine braking without touching the brake. Mike said that often he is taken by surprise in these situations and could see that a deceleration lighting system would be beneficial for his buddy. I can understand that in one hand but if his buddy continues to drive in that manner, even with the deceleration lighting system he will eventually engine brake with a driver too close behind him. But this type of driver normally does not consider such safety precautions in the first place. Ironically, most safe drivers are the ones to add additional safety precautions such as the deceleration module.
- I feel that automated deceleration lighting systems that slowly raise the intensity of the red light or offer different blinking or other lighting patterns will only serve to further confuse cars or bikes following and more importantly they seem to allow the rider to forget about his/hers responsibilities on the road. For example, it appears to me that the comments I have read about these systems indicate that the rider has a far better feeling of security with a computer module initiating the brake lights rather than the rider or in addition to the rider. The next logical step is that the rider will no longer be required to initiate the braking lights and perhaps will eventually not even think about checking who is following and how close they may be since they assume the braking deceleration module will let everyone know. I am certain that this is not what the inventor intended but it certainly will become the case with some riders. Many riders may come to this unfortunate conclusion but if all riders practiced safe riding there would be no market for such lights in the first place.
- Finally, many riders are constantly accelerating and decelerating all the time, especially sport bike riders. Imagine looking forward on a highway and seeing five bikes ahead and all of them are blinking on and off with high intensity red lights or that the lights are gradually getting brighter then dimming again as they go down the highway. Would you not begin to ignore these lights after a while? I fear that this will eventually become the case. I recently followed such a bike where the lights were flashing constantly. After a while I began question the meaning of the lights. Was he braking, down shifting, turning or was he riding with his foot resting on the rear brake pedal? I found it a bit annoying after a while.
In evaluating the process of communicating my intentions to cars and riders in front and behind me, I have concluded that by having very bright and visible signal and braking lights and having proper reflector lenses and tape is sufficient, especially at night. But most important is always using the available lights (tools of communicating) to properly communicate my intentions to riders and drivers.
Having a module make decisions for me to initiate my brake light is just a little over the edge for me (personally) today. Mind you I also do not have the Nest House Automation System installed but not to say I won’t in the future. But I remember when my father turned 72 years old that he suddenly decided that turn signals were no longer required when turning or switching lanes. I was horrified and just could not get him to use his turn signals and the government kept passing him on his tests and he drove right up until he was 91 years old. If there was an automated turn signal light system I would have most certainly purchased it for his car. It seems that many elderly come to the same conclusion and since I recently was invited to a $ 4.00 buffet at the casino as a “Senior Citizen” (I was equally horrified to be called that and wanted to pay full price) that these decelerator lighting systems may be in my future purchases (hopefully far later than sooner).
If you are the type of rider who performs hard engine braking without tapping the brakes and indicating your intentions, then this may be a very good safety solution for you.