The origins, dangers, and potential legalities of blinking brake lights

There has been a plague taking over our streets of late. We're not talking about horrendous metro traffic; that's already the new normal. Neither are we talking about arrogant drivers and the potential subsequent road rage.

The plague I speak of is those bright, strobe-like tail lights. And they often come in pairs.

What's the deal with these blinking brake lights? image

If you've ever had to follow a vehicle in bumper-to-bumper traffic with these bulbs fitted at night, you know what we mean. You can actually get them for a dirt cheap price of PhP 390... from Lazada.

Strobe-type brake lights aren't actually new, and neither is just a phenomenon resulting from the influx of car accessories that are Made in PRC that are carried by your friendly neighborhood auto supply or accessories shop. In fact, flashing brake lights are sometimes OE (original equipment) for some car companies.

What's the deal with these blinking brake lights? image

European manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have models that come with brake lights that can flash. The reason for that is that is to create a visual distinction between slowing down and an emergency full stop. In the case of some models of Mercedes, light to moderate pressure applied on the brake pedal activates the brighter mode of the tail lamps, but when it detects a sharper step as a result of the driver reacting to an obstacle (or person) on the road, the brake lights will flash. 

The important phrase in that last paragraph can flash. It means only a full emergency stop will trigger the flasher mode of the brake lights, and usually, they only flash thrice. But the ones sold locally flash continuously; actually, they're more similar to the strobe lights of your favorite superclub.

What's the deal with these blinking brake lights? image

Some accessory shops market them as being inspired by cars like the Civic Type R. Some are even said to have been inspired by Formula One cars. Now technically F1 does not have brake lights like a normal car, but they do have a blinking red light that they activate when conditions are tricky (i.e. rain) or when the car is harvesting electric power for the batteries in this turbo hybrid era.  

The legality of these blinking stop light bulbs is also in question. Blinking brake lights are arguably illegal based on the Land Transportation and Traffic Code or Republic Act 4136. Chapter III, Article IV, Section 34 of that law from 1964 says: Every motor vehicle shall be equipped with at least one lamp which shall throw a sustained bright red light visible under all conditions, even under bright sunlight, when the brakes are applied.

Another law that can possibly be used against these blinking lights harkens back to the Martial Law years: Presidential Decree No. 96. If this sounds familiar, it's the one that the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) of the Philippine National Police will enforce against vehicles that use sirens and blinkers illegally. This law states: That it shall be unlawful for the owner or possessor of any motor vehicle to use or attach to his vehicle any siren, bell, horn, whistle, or other similar gadgets that produce exceptionally loud or startling sound, including domelights, blinkers and other similar signaling or flashing devices.

Under RA 4136, the blinking/strobe stop light bulbs can be argued as a violation because most of the ones we see on the road blink whenever the brake pedal is depressed; often there is no steady red light like OE-style bulbs that can flash during emergency braking maneuvers. Given the broad use of the word blinker in PD 96, it can also be argued that this PD can be applicable since there was no distinction made between the type of blinkers used by law enforcement and the blinkers used in tail lights. Your lawyer can probably better interpret what the RA and PD say with more detail, but it's all there for you to research and read. 

The question of legality aside, let's just use common courtesy. If you've followed one in traffic, you'll know how irritating they are, to say the least. The fast blinking pattern and the powerful directional light from the LEDs pierce the darkness like mad, turning the drive home from the office into a truly annoying one. It's bad if traffic is so tight that you can't change lanes and follow something better (like a dilapidated bus), or the road is so narrow and twisty that you can't overtake safely, but it's downright dangerous if the person driving the vehicle behind is prone to epileptic seizures.