A lot of countries use red as the staple color for their emergency vehicles. Fire trucks can come in a variety of colors but red is by far the most popular. So why is a fire truck red?
The Power of Red
There are several theories on why fire trucks are most commonly red. In the 1900s when cars were first being produced, Henry Ford chose black to be the main color. Black paint was cheaper to use and also lasted longer. This meant most of the vehicles on the road were black.
There are several historical theories that suggest why fire departments would have chosen red. One theory suggests red was chosen because red really stands out as a color. This means people would quickly associate a red truck with fire fighting forces and know to get out of the way. Another theory states that fire brigades chose red because of its status as being the most expensive color. Having an expensive paint job contributed to the prestige of the fire fighters. Alternatively, there is also a theory that states red was the cheapest paint color on the market. Since fire fighters, in the beginning, were largely made up of unpaid volunteers, using the cheapest option would have been an economical decision.
It is interesting to consider if red really is the best color for fire trucks. Studies have shown that red lights are easier for people to see during daylight hours. Red lights are, however, more difficult to see at night.
Researchers in England found in the 1960s that the best color for people to see while on the road, during the day and at night, is bright yellow or lime. They also found that yellow is the color most visible during rain, fog and snow. As a result, many UK emergency service departments began using retroreflective yellow features on their vehicles for increased safety.
Fire departments throughout America have also moved away from traditional red. For example, some departments, including the Dallas Fire Department, have used lime-yellow trucks. You can find fire trucks painted lots of different colors in Pennsylvania, including orange, silver, royal blue, green, etc. A new trend, in many countries, is for fire trucks to have a different colored cab. So you might get a red truck with white cab or a black truck with red cab.
Rules of the Road
It is important to remember, however, that recognizing an emergency vehicle and following the rules of the road is more important than the color. If a person does not associate lime-yellow with a fire truck, this can lead to issues. For this key reason, many emergency services continue to use red as their staple color. It has become a tradition.