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Maybe this clever idea will help protect you against being rear-ended, and maybe it won't.

But at a low price of only $30 or less, and easily installable, it certainly won't harm you or your car and might help.

 
 
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SuddenStop License Plate Frame

An extra margin of safety against being rear-ended
 

The SuddenStop license plate frame can be seen in this image - the vertical strips of red lights on either side of the license plate.

It is a subtle rather than in-your-face obvious extra indicator, but the flashing (of course not apparent in the image) helps make it stand out some more.

 

 

Have you ever been rear-ended?  Or, even worse, have you rear-ended someone yourself?  Even if the answer to both questions is no, you probably already know how easy it is for a slight bit of inattention to result in an expensive and potentially dangerous crash.

Here's a device that claims to help draw attention to your vehicle when you're suddenly braking heavily, making it easier for the driver behind you to notice your sudden braking and encouraging him to respond sooner, too.

Will it save you, for sure, from ever being rear-ended again in the future?  We can't answer that question with certainty, but even if it slightly shifts the odds in your favor, perhaps it is a worthwhile investment ($30) for you to consider.


What the SuddenStop Does

The unit detects when you're braking heavily and rapidly flashes two vertical strips, each of four bright red LEDS, for two seconds when this occurs.

It is hoped that this flashing will alert drivers behind you more than the regular brake lights, causing them to react and start slowing down themselves, too.

What you get

The SuddenStop License Plate Frame comes in an easily openable plastic display case.  Inside is the unit itself and a sheet of light card that doubles as both a promotional piece and instruction/mounting guide.

The frame is made out of black plastic, with two vertical rows, each of four red LEDs, on either side.  The frame is slightly wider than a typical frame, due to the width of the LED panels on either side.  It measures 13.7" x 6.25", and I had no problem fitting it on several test vehicles (although there was no spare room remaining on the sides when mounting it on one of the cars).

The unit comes complete with four CR2032 button type batteries already installed.  It doesn't refer to any warranty, but the manufacturer advises they have a one year warranty offered on the product.

The unit lists for $29.95 and can be purchased on the manufacturer's website or through various other outlets (listed on the manufacturer's website) for as little as $22.

Installation and Operation

Installing the unit is very simple, and most importantly, doesn't require any wiring.  All you do is to unscrew the current license plate, then place the SuddenStop frame next to the car and your license plate on top of the SuddenStop, and then screw the combined plate and frame back onto the vehicle.

The unit has batteries already installed and doesn't need wiring in to the vehicle's braking or other electrical systems.  All you do is mount it to the vehicle - what could be simpler than that?

There is one potential issue when installing the frame.  They assume you'll be able to simply reuse the screws you are already using to mount your license plate, but the SuddenStop adds about an extra " of thickness, and it is possible your existing screws might not be long enough to handle this extra thickness.

If they're too short, SuddenStop offers to supply you with a set of longer screws for free, but this is a hassle.  Considering that four screws probably cost less than 20 maximum, it is a shame they don't simply include screws with the frame to start with.

The unit is self-contained and battery powered, with the manufacturer estimating a 2 - 3 year life for the batteries.  The battery life of course depends on how often it is triggered by strong braking on your part.

A weakness of the unit is not knowing when the batteries are failing.  The manufacturer suggests either doing some test brakings to see if the unit activates (which requires someone to be behind you to watch for the lights coming on or not) or hitting the 'test' switch to confirm the unit still has live batteries.  Unfortunately, hitting the test switch requires you to unscrew the unit because the switch is on the back not front of the unit.  Unscrewing the unit is an inconvenient and dirty task that few of us would wish to be doing every month.

A related weakness is that you can't replace the batteries.  When the batteries die, you need to buy a new unit.  While the cost of the SuddenStop isn't very high ($30 or less), it is still a measurable cost, compared to a dollar or two for new batteries if the unit came with regular replaceable batteries.

How it Works

There is a very simple pendulum lever switch inside the unit.  When braking force is applied to the unit, the lever swings over, closing an electrical circuit and activating the light flashing sequence.  The lever is only activated by braking, not by acceleration, and doesn't seem to be affected by simple bumpy rough road movement either - I'm guessing because the unit requires the lever to make contact for more than a brief fraction of a second before activating.

This is a simple way to detect strong braking in your car.  But, because it is so simple, it has some limitations.  The unit can be made more sensitive if it is on an angle facing one way, and it can be made less sensitive if it is on an angle the other way.  This angle can occur either if your license plate doesn't mount exactly vertically on the rear of your vehicle, or if you're going up/down a hill.

If the frame is sloped so that the license plate is looking upwards to the sky, or if the vehicle is going downhill, it becomes more sensitive to braking.  If the frame is sloped so the license plate is looking down to the road, or if the vehicle is going uphill, it becomes less sensitive to braking.

Some vehicles have slopes on their license mounts, usually in the 'up to the sky' direction, making the unit more sensitive and more likely to activate even with gentler amounts of braking, an effect compounded if you're going down a hill, too.  This isn't necessarily a problem - better the unit activates more regularly than the unit be insensitive and not activate when needed, but more activations will also mean the batteries get used up more quickly.

Using the SuddenStop

The SuddenStop is very simple to use.  Once you've mounted it on your vehicle, the rest happens automatically.  When you brake harder than normal, you trigger the SuddenStop and it fires a two second burst of blinking red LEDs to hopefully warn the driver behind you of your braking.

The exact amount of braking needed to activate the SuddenStop varies depending on the angle the SuddenStop is mounted, and if you're driving on the flat, uphill or downhill.

One could obsessively debate whether the SuddenStop activates at too weak or too strong a degree of braking, but this is a matter of personal opinion and is really missing the point.  The key thing is that sometimes it comes on to supplement your other brake lights and to provide an extra level of warning to the driver behind.  It isn't intended as a primary warning system, but rather as a supplementary system, and if you view your glass as half full, you'll accept that when/if it comes on, it might help reduce the chances of a rear-end collision, and if it doesn't come on, it in no way increases your chances.  In other words, heads you win, tails you don't lose.

How much extra warning does the SuddenStop provide?  This is hard to answer accurately.  The LEDs aren't particularly bright, and in strong sunlight they seem even less apparent than at night.  Their rapid flashing helps compensate for their lack of brightness, and again we view this as a glass half full thing.  Some drivers might overlook seeing them immediately, others might immediately notice them.  Worst case scenario is that you're no worse off than without the unit, and best case scenario might save you from a nasty rear end collision.

The manufacturer points out that as little as a quarter second of extra warning at 60 mph represents 20' of extra distance traveled (to be exact, it is 22') and this might make all the difference between a rear-ender or not.  This sounds like a very strong reason to consider adding a SuddenStop to your vehicle.

A Possible Embarrassment?

While the underlying purpose of the SuddenStop frame is definitely benevolent and well meaning, you don't want to give a policeman another reason to stop you and another reason to cite you.

There's an unfortunate resemblance between this plate frame and laser jammer type frames - a policeman might see your SuddenStop frame and misidentify it as a laser jammer frame (they also use LEDs) and so decide, without telling you why, to go hard on you rather than to go easy on you.

We'd recommend that SuddenStop add some clear branding to their frame so as to make it obvious to police that you're not trying to cheat their laser guns, but rather are safety conscious and trying to cut down on accidents.

Summary

This is potentially a very helpful and interesting gadget at an affordable price.  If it works, you're definitely better off, and if it doesn't work, you're only down something less than $30.  Available from the manufacturer's website and elsewere.

A good gift for gadget and car lovers, and for the safety conscious.

 

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Originally published 2 Nov 2007, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

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