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 report by Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in 2007. 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 remains the most up to date research on this topic. It suggests crash severity is linked to vehicle colour, with “low visibility colours having higher risks of more severe crashes.”
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 vehicle specialist Jack Haley said the MUARC study remains 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.
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:
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?
Blog first published in 2007