337 Color & Emergency Vehicle Safety

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Research by Solomon, Stephen S. & King, James G. (1995).

Written by American Psychological Association, adapted by Juanita N Baker, Ph.D.

Why do some cities have red and others have lime-yellow fire trucks?  Human factors and ergonomics research showed that the color-transmitting cones in our eyes don’t work well in the dark. We are most sensitive to greenish-yellow colors under dim conditions, making lime shades easiest to see at night, dusk, and dawn. In a FEMA study, fluorescent colors, especially yellow-green and orange, are easiest to spot in daylight.

A four-year study involving nine cities and 750,000 fire vehicle trips found that lime-yellow fire trucks were half as likely as red trucks to be involved in intersection accidents. Another study confirmed that while fluorescent yellow-green and orange may increase vehicle visibility, the report also concluded that quick recognizability of the vehicle was more important than just paint color.

Researchers found that adding reflective striping significantly increases a vehicle’s nighttime visibility, distinctive pattern, and conspicuousness.  In 2012 motor vehicle accidents caused more than 10 percent of firefighter deaths plus injuring and killing civilians. Thus, using psychological research is essential so communities can optimize their emergency fleets, have fewer accidents, and save more lives. Let’s insure safety and maximize visibility. Paint all emergency vehicles lime-yellow and add fluorescent stripes.

Cited Research:

Federal Emergency Management Agency (2009). Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study (FEMA Publication No. FA-323). Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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Adele Hall is the administrative assistant for the School of Psychology in charge of uploading the Psychology Science minutes. The authors of the minutes are listed in the written portion.

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