Depending on the reason for the Check Engine Light, you may also get the appearance of TRAC and VSC lights (disabling of those systems). The action of those systems may involve modulation of brakes, throttle, ignition timing, transmission function, etc., and could aggravate a condition that caused the fault and triggered the CEL. So the system will work to protect itself along with making it plain and obvious to you that you should not just ignore it.
As the emission rules have tightened over the years, it seems that the presence of the other lights is simply becoming more common. Again, probably to help force you to do something about it, and less for self-preservation purposes.