April 15, 2024

Taillights: Smart signals

Graphic: Vicky Leta

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You’ve seen the endless sea of red when you’re stuck in traffic. But chances are, you haven’t given the simple tail light much thought. Car designers past and present have, though — and so has Jason Torchinsky, co-founder of auto news blog The Autopian. These signals, which include the lights that indicate a car’s existence on the road, brake lights, and turn indicators, have traveled from oil lamp to bespoke brand signature over the years. All so we can show each other where we are and where we’re going. This episode is guaranteed to change how you think about any road-based journey (and it might involve a little tail light fan fiction, too).


Gabriela Riccardi is news editor at Quartz and the host of Season 7 of the Quartz Obsession podcast. She’s obsessed with zinemaking, her glassware collection, and karaoke (if Carole King is on).

Jason Torchinsky is co-founder of The Autopian. He’s obsessed with tail lights, of course.

Show notes

Murder By Flashing Amber Light: A Mack Hardigraw Car Mystery — your must-read taillight crime fiction by Jason Torchinsky, at The Autopian

How Taillights Caused A ‘Riot’ And Jail-Break In Small-Town Kansas In 1916

Volkswagen Tail Light “Signatures”


The Quartz Obsession is produced by Ready Freddie Media, with additional support from executive editor Susan Howson and head of video David Weinstein. Our theme music is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Suguira. This episode was recorded at G/O Media headquarters in New York and at Jason’s home studio in North Carolina.

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