Crash risk and the colour of your car

The notion that there is a relationship between car colour and crash risk may initially sound ridiculous, equivalent to the belief that red cars go faster. Nor is it likely that many people in the market for a new car would have ‘colour’ amongst airbags and electronic stability programs on their list of desired safety features.

Yet when light conditions are taken into consideration, there is a clear statistical relationship between a vehicle’s colour and its crash risk, as detailed in a recent report by Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC). Compared to white, colours such as black, blue, grey and others ranking lower on the visibility index were associated with higher crash risk in daylight hours.

MUARC’s research also suggests crash severity is linked to vehicle colour, with “low visibility colours having higher risks of more severe crashes.”

Previous studies

A study in Epidemiology from 2002 found white and yellow cars had a slightly lower risk of being passively involved in a crash. This was followed by a study published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) in 2003 concluding that silver cars were 50% less likely than white cars to be involved in a crash resulting in serious injury. The association between silver and reduced risk continued even when confounding factors were adjusted.

Both these studies, according to MUARC, were inconclusive. These two studies, as well as prior ones, left the role of colour in influencing crash risk as being uncertain, prompting MUARC to undertake a more in-depth study.

The MUARC study

NRMA Motoring & Services’ vehicle specialist Jack Haley said the MUARC study was arguably the most comprehensive to probe the link between vehicle colour and crash risk.

“Previous international studies have examined vehicle visibility and colour but have not fully taken into account other factors that may have an impact on crash risk, such as driver demographics,” Mr Haley said.

Using crash data from Victoria and Western Australia, MUARC used the colour classifications black, blue, brown cream, fawn, gold, green, grey, maroon, white mauve, orange, pink, purple, red, silver and yellow, with all variables considered under the nearest category. Also included in the study were conditions such as light at the time of the crash, vehicle type, crash severity and state. Commercial vehicles and taxis were excluded.

Results

The result compared white vehicles with all other coloured vehicles. MUARC’s research showed there were a number of colours related to high risk, including:

  • Black
  • Blue
  • Grey
  • Green
  • Red
  • Silver

None of the colours tested were statistically safer than white, though some had equal relative crash risk.

The association between colour and crash risk was highest during daylight hours, the risk associated with the above colours during this period up by 10%. The link was reduced during darker driving hours due to colour being less distinguishable and headlights further reducing colour’s effects. Results also showed that environmental factors had an impact on the relationship between colour and crash risk.

Of the study, Dr Soames Job of the RTA’s NSW Centre for Road Safety said the results were useful but other factors were more influential on crash risk and for drivers to be aware of this.

“Driving a darker coloured car can increase your crash risk,” Dr Job said, “but that is nowhere near as influential a factor as your driving behaviour. By driving within the speed limit, not driving after drinking and avoiding driving when tired, you increase your safety on the road.”

Is colour something you’ve taken into consideration when buying a car? Are there any colours you have difficulty seeing in certain conditions?

35 thoughts on “Crash risk and the colour of your car

  1. It makes sense. But i never thought about it when buying a car. Actually i never even thought about it when driving. i think some colours like yellow or hot pink are, even though very bright and easy to see during day or night, are very eye catching and could cause an accident that way…

  2. I have always bought white cars both for visibility and for coolness. The colours i find most invisible are grey and blue against a bitumen road or a dark background

  3. When I had an accident in my white car a few years back, the driver of the other car didn’t give way to me at a Give Way sign. He did have a sight problem though, blurred vision from drugs! Anyway, the tow truck driver who arrived within minutes at the scene informed me that the worst car colour for accidents is dark blue. It seemed that it was a well known fact, I have heard it on a number of occasions since.

    The cars I have trouble seeing, especially in the evening when it’s raining, are the very dark colours. I always steer away from buying dark coloured cars.

  4. Why don’t we have cars made of rubber, a bit like dodgem cars? That way we could bounce off each other’s cars and it doesn’t matter about the colour!

  5. If I was buying a new car I’d opt for black just because it’s the best in covering up dirt and environmental scuffs like raindrops and bird poo. However, knowing how hard it is for me- even with good eyesight to see dark coloured cars at night, I would definitely prefer a silver or white car.

    Particularly with how blindingly bright they are making standard headlights for cars these days, its no wonder poor vision is at fault for night car crashes!

    But for some reason I just don’t see the link between car colour and car crashes during the day?

  6. I’ve been driving black coloured cars for the last 15 years [yes, a glutton for punishment to keep them clean] and found very early on that many people just “didn’t see” the car against the colour of the bitumen, regardless of whether it was day or night. Mind you, a lot of drivers just don’t take the time to actually look and see what’s coming before turning onto the road – they just glance and go!

    I always drive with my parking lights on, and as my current car is black and low, I also have the fog lights on. I know this probably annoys some other drivers, but have found since doing so that I don’t have cars just pulling out of streets / driveways right in front of me. The foggies are a bit annoying I know [I wear glasses to drive and find the fog lights annoying rather than distracting] but they definitely make a dark car far more visible to all – and to my way of thinking, work as a safety factor for me and other drivers.

  7. Interesting. I do find that some colours are harder to detect as being vehicles in my peripheral vision when driving. This becomes a problem at intersections and blind spots when overtaking. I consider myself a safe driver, not having any major collisions in my 20 or so years of driving, but there have been occasions when others cars have seemed to appear out of thin air and I have wondered how I could possibly have missed them. I’ll try to note the car colour next time it happens.

    Also, I read some other stats the other day saying the worst time for accidents is between 12 and 4 in the arvo.

  8. Also, Marta, I think its interesting how you have had incidents where you have been told your car is hard to see. Was this common for you or just once or twice?

  9. I’m with shazza
    The brightness, for other drivers, of the new style headlights is a concern. They are worse then someone having their lights on high beam!

  10. I prefer white for coolness and visibility, with yellow a second preference.
    While I have not had an accident, I have had several frights, particularly near sunset and/or in rainy conditions. The other vehicles involved on those occasions were dark colours particularly metallic blues, greys and black which all merge against the road surface. As stated above, worst conditions are in twilight with a wet road surface and light rain.
    Many drivers of dark cars seem oblivious of their poor visibility and delay turning on their headlights in dim conditions.
    Perhaps consideration could be given to making the old “speed stripes” that were once popular, a mandatory requirement for “low visibility” colours.

  11. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the latest in Mazda vehicle designs. However, while shopping for an RX8 I was advised the yellow that made the Wheels car of the year was DELETED.
    When I went shopping for an NC MX5, I was told the white was DELETED from the 2007 model year.
    I now drive a Stormy Blue MX5, and when I picked it up, I sighted a White RX8 that I was previously told would never happen.
    The world never goes in a SAFE colour direction!

  12. My first car was dark grey. I had at least 2 occasions when a car veered on to the wrong side of the road without seeing my car. From then on I drove with lights on when visibility was poor.

    My next car was white and I dont recall any frights.
    It did not heat up nearly so much on hot days. Cars with white rooves and less sloping windscreens would help stop them becoming death traps on hot days for pets and occasionally young kids left in cars.

  13. Yellow is the most visible colour to the optic nerve. That is why Yellow cars, signs, etc are more visible than other colours including white. The most dangerous item in use, which should be outlawed is idiots leaving on driving/fog lights.

  14. I have always found the greys to blues to be the hard to see colours. As my car is a metallic green, I have taken to using my lights in the daytime, especially in the mid to late afternoon to make it more visible. Around home, the setting sun can be a major additional factor in visibility, especially in Autumn and Spring, as sundown gets closer to the time for leaving work.
    While my late father always preferred his white cars for coolness and cleanness to his mind, I’ve selected for other reasons and would never consider the yellow/orange or fluoro type colours: Migraine material ?!!

  15. With the overall poor quality of drivers today I doubt any colour will reduce the risk of being hit. Having driven all colours, with lights on/off, loud exhaust etc the average “blinkered” driver will still pull out, change lanes, park into and generally try their hardest to hit you.

  16. What colour are bitumen roads?….Grey.
    So any car colour that blends into the road (grey, silver etc) has a tendency to disappear from view.
    Have you ever put your hand on a white car and then a dark car and felt the heat difference on a sunny day? You car air conditioning therefore has to work harder or longer in a dark car, thereby increasing your fuel comsumption….another good reason to choose white.

  17. There are silvery-grey cars, seemingly predominant in showrooms, which blend well with the road. Slight variations blend better depending on rain, road colour, etc. Not necessarily dark, but camoflage colours. As it is possibly unethical to ban these vehicles, insurance premiums should represent any increased risks. Also, the studies may have allocated a crash to another factor, such as speed or road surface, but would not necessarily show relative risk. For example, if there were a tendency for those who drove agressively to drive red cars, & for semiconscous dreamers to have ghost colours, the contribution could be equalised. I find it difficult to accept that cars which are near invisible, are as easily avoided. Did the research iclude correlating “I just didn’t see it” with car colour?
    As the mindset of car puchasers has more to do with warped fashion-ego than consequence, those who insist on being the invisible car, should be made to pay. More simple could be a visibilty standard.

  18. Colours do make a difference to visibility, but under some conditions even in broad daylight almost any coloured car is hard to see.

    If you have your lights on any time of day you will always be more visible. Don’t use fog lights for visibility – they are only of use in fog – the beam is too low and wide. Many people call other driving lights fog lights but, in fact, they are either flood lights or spot lights – both types are way too bright to be used in any traffic conditions.

    So, light-coloured cars have a bit of an advantage – but not in all lighting conditions. The real answer is drive with your normal lights on – all the time.

  19. This is a risk factor that we have always been aware of. We have asked car sales people why they do not sell lower risk colours such as yellow and they say there is no demand from customers. However, I believe that the manufacturers decide which colours will be popular in the marketplace. This is probably done with some interest from the paint manufacturers.

  20. Visibility is greatly increased by having headlights always on….On country roads in particular, a car with its lights is visible at a far greater distance than one without, regardless of the cars colour.
    I am positive that others notice me more because I have a lights on policy.
    White and silver are far to common colours for me to want one .. pick the colour you like and leave the lights on…even in a white car!

  21. The driving behavior is more of a factor than the color of the car. There are lots of idioots and dangerous drivers on the road. Even they see cars coming in, they often signal and turn straight awaty without better judgment. The color of the car only affects 1% and 90% are the behavior and how many years of experience you have been driving and 8% others: road condition and your condition (tire etc)

  22. I always prefer to buy light cpoloured cars, white, silver etc as here is no doubt in my mind that they are cooler and definately easier to see in any driving condition.

    In response to the comments from Marta in these matters, he should read a traffic rules handbook to find that driving with fog lights on at any time other than in advise weather conditions is, in fact, illegal.

    There are so many cars these days driving around with fog lights on that it is obvious that most people are not aware or don’t care what the law says on this matter.

  23. I switched to a dark green Volvo, after six years in a white VW.
    Around town there was little trouble, but it was a different kettle of crash avoidance out on the open road, particulary when driving on a road in shade, because of roadside trees; it seemed the Volvo was invisible.

    Solution: turn on the headlights, not just at night!

    Off-topic, sure, but aren’t those blue-tinted headlight globes a regular pain in the eye, particularly when the vehicle’s coming up a hill.

  24. The only time I’ve come close to being in an accident was in the rain at dusk and the car I nearly hit was silver. They didn’t have lights on and it blended in with the surrounding’s. I just didn’t see it and was in a state of shock for a while afterwards. Most cars I have owned were/are light colours.

  25. I thought it’s more about contrast with the surroundings rather than actual colour.. it just occurs that darker colours have lower contrast with the surroundings, green or brown terrain, shadows etc. I always try to drive with headlights on, lo-beam only, and believe that when this is done, the colour of the vehicle or even how much dirt and dust is adorning it become less of an influence. You can nearly always spot a car with it’s lights on well before you detect it’s colour or size.

    Now, if we could just get all those dummies using white fog lights to turn them off, anytime! then that would be a great achievement.

  26. In just about every country that has headlighs on during daylight hours there has been an increase in accidents. ‘Headlights on’ cause distraction especially from behind. Somone driving under the inflenceof drugs or medication is always attracted to oncoming lights. Children and elderly people have difficulty in estimating the distance of a light Most people cannot estimate the distance away of a bright light at night. Do something about the current blue light fad on some cars.

    Why does NRMA support lights on Because of less payout on insurance.You can be 100% right in the an accident and the big Question will reduce the payout “Could you hav e been seen better with your lights ”
    What a trick.
    Why do oil Companies support light on? Have a guess
    Why do Government support this You use a lot more fuel of course.

    How many tonnes of CO2 are used with lights on NRMA will tell you its nothing. Trying getting some authentic calculations.

    Only 3% of motorist want light on Fear and false information is increasing it to 8 and 9 % Wake up Australia.

  27. If you live in a northern climate, as I do, you have to consider white a hazard in a snow storm…..it would be very hard to see.

  28. If you’re in a northern climate like I am, you’d have to consider a white vehicle a bit of a hazard in a snow storm… it would be hard to see through the falling snow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Have you Subscribed via RSS yet? Don't miss a post!