A light bulb went on when Mercedes-Benz engineers pondered how to avoid rear-end collisions in sudden-stop situations. Repeatedly.

That is how the luxury brand's '07 S600 will communicate emergency stops to vehicles behind it, says Bart Herring, S-Class product manager.

When the driver hits the binders hard, the car's brake lamps flash.

“It's the ability to communicate, ‘Hey, this is an emergency stopping situation,’ with the car behind you,” Herring tells Ward's at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, where Mercedes staged the North American unveiling of its ninth-generation S-Class.

The brand's adaptive brake lamp system already is available across a number of its products in Europe. But the technology will make its North American debut on the 700 S600 units the auto maker expects to sell here this year.

It will be made available on other vehicles, including the CL600, as part of a 2,500-unit rollout Mercedes is conducting to satisfy the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.

Washington wants to be certain the flashing brake lamps will not confuse motorists, but Herring says the Mercedes approach is more effective than other similar technologies.

Chief rival BMW AG offers a system that increases the intensity of the light emitted by its brake lamps. But Herring suggests this may not be the most intuitive solution.

“How does the person behind you know that that's not normal?” Herring asks. “We feel like it's the frequency that people notice. You can't expect to count how many brake lights just illuminated.”

Motorists recognize other clues associated with sudden stops, such as a sudden body roll or nosedive of the vehicle ahead, which can save the vehicle traveling behind valuable seconds in reaction time.

But Herring offers this warning: “You're really not going to see that (pitch forward in a sudden stop) in a car like an S-Class.”

Central to the advanced suspension design of the S-Class is its adaptive damping system, affording four different stiffness levels determined automatically by an array of sensors.

The S600, which boasts a 5.5L twin-turbo V-12 that makes 510 hp, is arriving in U.S. showrooms.

The S550 is powered by a 5.5L V-8 that makes 382 hp, an increase of more than 25% compared with the previous generation.

The S550 will start at $86,175, including destination fee. The S600 will sticker for about $130,000.