In the United States the colours were red or red/white for fire vehicles and black & white for police cars.
In Australia ambulances used to be a creamy beige colour – they are now white.
Police vehicles in the UK are often leased so they are ordered in metallic silver colour to take advantage of a 10% increase in resale value at the end of the lease.
England and EEC (European Economic Community) countries have now agreed to paint their vehicles yellow/green RAL 1016, however each country will retain their different liveries and markings.
Whatever the traditional reason for emergency vehicle body colour, there are valid reasons for choosing particular vehicle colours. In Australia where every delivery van on the road looks like a white Mercedes Sprinter ambulance, agencies rely heavily on coloured livery and markings to announce the vehicle’s presence.
Red has poor reflectivity and is not detected well in the periphery during daylight hours. The intensity of red in daylight only appears once the object is visualised within the central field of view. Red is perceived even less during darkness and under adverse lighting conditions, both in central and peripheral vision.
So what is the best body colour for emergency vehicles?
Without doubt, a single body colour with high brightness levels and high colour contrast when it is viewed under varied light and weather conditions is safer than two tones of colour or the use of a single dark colour.
The majority of the vehicle bodywork should be painted in one of the colours shown below in order of preference. A white base colour requires the careful addition of a second highlight colour to approximately 10% of the total surface area to increase visibility. The vehicle paintwork should be regularly polished to keep reflectance values high.
1. Yellow – green
2. Chrome Yellow