Teen Inventor Hopes To Cut Down On Rear-End Collisions

CLEVELAND (AP) - Melanie Soules is using personal experience to try to decrease rear-end collisions.

The 18-year-old from suburban Richmond Heights developed a new brake lights system that would warn drivers when a car is stopping quickly. She came up with the invention after a friend was in a rear-end collision last year and had to undergo physical therapy.

More than 102,000 of Ohio's accidents last year were rear-end collisions, according to the American Automobile Association. In those crashes, 66 people died.

"It's pretty unbelievable," Soules said. "I never thought I'd do engineering, probably because my dad is an engineer. You never want to do what your parents do. But it's neat to think you can make a difference."

Soules designed a model of her system, which she calls an Intelligent Brake Light System, and has contacted seven companies this summer to try to sell it.

The model, made of a syringe and eight tiny lights, runs on a 9-volt battery. The syringe simulates brake pressure and illuminates pea-sized lights as the its plunger is pushed in.

Wires and electronics communicate a change in pressure to the bulbs, Soules said. A small amount of pressure lights two or three bulbs, representing a car stopping slowly. More pressure, which lights all eight red bulbs, indicates the car is stopping fast.

The system could be a third brake light above most vehicles' trunks, Soules said.

She originally developed the device for science fairs, then she decided to market it.

Although no company has bought the idea, Ford Motor Co. passed it on to its technical department and told Soules earlier this week that the company will keep her idea on file for a year.

Ford spokeswoman Rosalynn Driskell would not disclose the number of outside inventors' ideas Ford used last year.

Kyle Lucas, a research engineer at the Schefenacker Research technology company in Rochester Hills, Mich., said the product could not work without a federal law allowing the device to be used with brake lights.

But Lucas said the teen's idea has a good chance because it builds on research that shows a similar system could be tied to a speedometer to sense deceleration.

"She has a good idea that she should be proud of," he said. "Who knows, one day it may be in every vehicle."

Soules has a $500 provisional patent that expires in March. Her father, Thomas Soules, said he won't pay $4,000 to patent the device after that.

Soules said she hopes a company buys the system before the patent runs out.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)