At least a dozen years before the Feds went on a safety binge in 1966, the auto industry took a major step to keep drivers’ eyes on the road. Critics and purists called this bold advance in 1953 “idiot lights.” They were and are red alerts on the instrument panel to warn that there’s trouble brewing under the hood. “The lights simply were a better way to attract attention, as drivers didn’t pay attention to gauges,” says Vann H. Wilber, vehicle safety director for the Alliance of ...

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