Yesterday, our pals over at The Drive published an article with the headline “Even the Cybertruck’s Brake Lights Don’t Make Sense,” and while I enjoy poking fun at the Cybertruck as much as the next guy (unless that next guy is the one who thinks the Cybertruck will be “the best product the world has ever seen”) in this case I think the criticism is a bit unfair. I don’t think the Cybertruck’s brake lights are bad; in fact, while they’re hardly perfect, I actually think they do a pretty admirable job of what the whole raison d’etre of a brake lamp is: getting your attention. So, since these have been called out, let’s take a deeper look at the Cybertruck brake lights.
I’ve actually addressed these brake lamps before, in a previous Cybertruck story from the beginning of the month, where I included this little video clip of the brake lights in action:
— Dirty Tesla (@DirtyTesLa) October 2, 2023
Here’s what I said about the brake lights then:
“What I like about this brake lamp approach is that there is a clear shift both in lamp brightness, as is traditional, but also in the visual graphic of the lamps themselves, switching from one long unbroken bar into three bright elements, and I think that does a lot to capture the driver’s attention. It’s also interesting how pretty much all of the main taillights are at the high level of the center-high-mount stop lamp (CHMSL), so they’re all on the same linear plane. It seems to work well.”
And, I stand by that!
Now, in The Drive story, this video is included, with its associated commentary:
Interesting that they don’t put another 3rd brake light on top of the rear glass like they did with the Baja light bar in front. Imagine if the tailgate was down, you’ll only see the two side, honestly don’t know if that’s enough light especially if it’s a foggy night pic.twitter.com/7ga77rwcls
— omg_Tesla/Rivian (@omg_tesla) October 25, 2023
The issue seems to be that during braking, the light pattern changes from the one long taillight bar to a three-segment setup, with a pair of bright square lights at either side and a bar in the middle. I believe this is done to emulate the three-brake-lamp setup required by law, with a center high mounted stop lamp (CHMSL) and two brake lights. The concern about if that is “enough light” really shouldn’t be a concern, because there are federal standards that define a minimum size and brightness. For example, for the side stop lamps, they must be at least 7.75″ square inches in area, and the CHMSL must be at least 4.5″ square inches. So if this thing will be road legal, then it’ll be held to the same standards of light area as everything else on the road.
Here’s what The Drive has issue with regarding these lights:
The issue here is that less of the Cybertruck’s rear lighting is solely dedicated to brake lights than to the taillights or turn signals, the former of which deactivate during braking. Although the lights at the edges become more intense under braking, their small surface area means that overall, the Cybertruck emits less light when it’s slowing down. That’s pretty much the inverse of what drivers have come to expect. This could lead to drivers of following vehicles becoming confused, assuming a Cybertruck is coasting or accelerating when it’s braking, and vice versa. Best case scenario, the result is traffic flow problems; worst, rear-end collision.
Now, here’s why I don’t think this is a big deal: there’s not really less light being emitted, because the intensity of the brake lights themselves are significantly higher than the taillight bar, and that amount is set by legal standards as well. When the brake lights are activated, they’re essentially no different than any current car that has smallish taillights that re-purpose the taillight bulbs for brake lights, too. Look:
This setup really isn’t any different than, say, a Jeep, and I don’t see anyone writing about how Jeep brake lights don’t make sense. In fact, it’s likely better than how a car like the Jeep does it, in that the switch from not braking to braking is much more noticeable, as the taillight changes quite dramatically from one long bar to three very bright segments. On a car like the Jeep or any of the many other cars that share brake and taillight areas, all you have to go on is a change in brightness.
The Drive story also states
“However, the FMVSS does not appear to prohibit deactivating taillights during braking, so the Cybertruck’s taillights as seen here seem to be legal—even if they are perplexing, and potentially dangerous.”
…and they’re right, there are no regulations against de-activating taillights when brake lights are on, otherwise there would be millions of cars on the road made illegal, ranging from Dodge Neons to pre-’73 VW Beetles to Jeeps to AMC Hornets to Corvettes and the list goes on and on. With so many cars already on the road that do just this, I have trouble seeing how it can be perplexing or dangerous.
That said, designing taillights that way isn’t ideal! It was mostly done because, frankly, carmakers are cheapskates. Ideally, all the major taillight functions should have their own independent areas, so tail and brake and turn indicator and reverse lamp can all co-exist and illuminate in harmony, simultaneously as needed.
More crappy is that the Cybertruck has red rear indicators instead of amber ones. The look when off could have been kept the same by using red/amber LEDs, which exist. I think a better Cybertruck taillight setup could be like this, keeping in mind when the tailgate drops, brake/tail/turn have to all work in the outermost edge:
It’s also worth noting that if there are plans to export the Cybertruck outside of the US, it will be required to have amber rear indicators. So why doesn’t Tesla just suck it up and design them in now?
Just having the amber indicators there would help so much. With the tailgate down, the taillights can revert to the just red corner squares for stop/turn/tail, which is adequate, if not great.
That light bar could be used for all kinds of more advanced effects as well, seeing as how its essentially a very wide, narrow LED display. Flashing brake lamps for emergency stops, sequential indicators, all these things are possible! Here’s two examples: flashing brake lights for hard stops, and brake lights that grow as brake intensity increases:
Of course, if Tesla doesn’t want to put in that much effort, there is another cheap and proven option that could solve the complicated taillight issues, even with the tailgate down:
Slap a couple brackets and a pair of cheap box taillights on there: they’re good enough for Jeeps and pickups and millions of box trucks and 18-wheelers and delivery vehicles, so why wouldn’t they work here? They’re DOT-approved and you can get replacements in gas stations for like $20.
Remember, I love these things:
Overall, though, while I think there’s plenty of things to criticize the Cybertruck about, the brake lights just aren’t one of them. They’re not perfect, but they’re also no different than many cars already on the road, and, really, piling on about them just feels like trying to find something to complain about.
Look at me, defending the Cybertruck! Feels kinda weird.