The color of cars and accidents

Whenever I have bought a car, I tend to choose the color purely on the basis of how it looks and, of course, on my personality. Given the dullness of the latter, it should be no surprise that my choices in the past have been either steel gray or more recently dark gray. I had never considered the issue of how color relates to crash frequency. It appears that white cars are the least prone to accidents while black cars are the most.

Black cars are notably more dangerous to drive than white cars for reasons of visibility already. A study by Monash University Accident Research Centre in Australia, which studied crash data across the country from 1987 to 2004, found that compared to white cars as a baseline, crash risk was higher for just about every other common color, including red, blue, silver, green, gray, and, yes, black. Black performed the worst by every measure: In daylight, the chance of crash is 12% higher than that of white cars. At dawn and dusk, that jumps to 47%—though your relative risk of getting into an accident at that time is lower at those hours, the authors point out. Monash’s study was consistent with at least one other, from the University of Granada, which determined that yellow was a safe alternative to white.

I was surprised that black was worse even in daytime.

My dark grey car looks black at night which means that my choice was not good as far as accidents go. To be frank, I just do not like white or any of the other colors so I may just have to stomach the increased risk and hope that careful driving partially compensates.


  1. Ridana says

    Did they control for the color of the pavement? I’d think black and dark colors would be harder to see on black asphalt roads, while white and light colors would be disadvantaged on light gray concrete roads. I have trouble spotting light blue or white cars on freeways, which tend to be the latter surface. It doesn’t matter at night, since it’s all headlights and taillights to me.

    Also, do Grenada and Australia have daytime headlight requirements? I’ve heard that makes more difference than car color (don’t ask me for a citation!).

  2. says

    I’m guessing these studies did not consider weather. White cars against snow during the day are not easy to see. I would assume that the most important thing is contrast. My of my cars is yellow and the other is red. I would have preferred a brighter red, but that’s all they made.

    Which brings up my favorite car rant: why are most cars only made in such boring colors these days? It’s either white, black, gray (or silver), or some dark, subdued color like deep blue or dark red (maroon). Ugh. No personality. I drive down the road and see a sea of boredom.

  3. says

    I remember reading studies in the past that compared accidents between areas with and without daytime headlight requirements, and they concluded that daytime headlights do reduce accidents significantly (about 10%). Not deadly accidents, because those are mostly caused by excessive speed and unsafe passing. Most of the reduction was in the paint-scratching-metal-bending accidents caused by overlooking someone approaching a crossing.

  4. says

    Ridana (#1) -- Walls are more of a factor than the asphalt. Stone and concrete are dark and non-reflective, even when wet. Black could easily blend in with the surroundings.

    Two things are not mentioned in that list:

    1) What about yellow cars? Fluorescent yellow and orange are used in safety equipment precisely because they’re visible and won’t blend in with most backgrounds.

    2) What about winter? Do white backgrounds reverse the effect of colours?

    Headlights became mandatory in British Columbia and other parts of Canada in the 1990s, as did other places. Accident rates were reduced by about 5-10%.

  5. Allison says

    I’ve always insisted on light-colored cars (when I had a choice) for this reason.

    I also insist on light-colored winter jackets and coats, ideally yellow (or pink.) Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get cute plus-sized women’s coats in yellor or pink. They’re always dull, dark colors, suited more for a funeral. (Maybe the fashion industry is trying to get us prepared for all the funerals that will occur when global warming’s effects really hit us.)

  6. rockwhisperer says

    Huh. Husband and I have chosen white cars for decades, because they stay marginally cooler in California summers. Plus, they are delightfully ordinary and boring, and do not attract the attention of police who might otherwise notice I am exceeding the “safe” value of 5 mph over the speed limit. Not that I drive all that fast, as a general rule, but sometimes the freeways are very open and I am in a hurry. Except that that open freeway thing is becoming more and more a memory.

  7. says

    jimf, not much snow driving happens in Australia. As for paint colour, I suspect the brighter colours contain more toxic ingredients on average so are less likely to be approved for use on cars. Then again it might just be paranoia making people buy dull coloured cars, to make them less of a target in the traffic melee.

    No one will be able to think of every factor. In Australia, government departments used to buy huge numbers of white cars for their fleets, which were then sold on to the public after a couple of years. People being cautious with their money may be a reason for their choice of colour being the safest on the road. I happen to drive an old white station wagon which is both the most visible and the most invisible car on the road. I’ve watched many a policeman’s eyes skip straight over my car and lodge on a strangely coloured one a few spots in front. I’ve had a delivery van drive out of a side street right at me, with only the empty parking lane saving me.

    Around here the joke is that all bank robbers wear hi vis jackets and drive white vans, making them near invisible amongst a sea of similarly equipped people.

  8. M. Currie says

    There’s a sense of deja vu here. I recall back in the 1960’s a similar study was made, and it was convincingly shown that dark cars were less safe, with white cars less safe in snow. I seem to remember it was bandied about in various places,but given a big writeup in Popular Science. As a result many manufacturers, especially European, started coming up with very bright, safe colors. Bright oranges and yellows, avocado greens, and so forth. The trend died out after a few years but a few of those odd colors seem to be coming back. A lot of little cars I see now are coming in what one dealer called “alien green” and a few in other colors. Yellow is coming back too.

    I have driven black and other dark colored cars most of the last few years and their visibility seems to vary. For some reason a dark green Jeep Cherokee seems to have been like a target, but the worst vehicle of all, at least here in Vermont, was a dull gold colored Colt Vista. It really seemed as if nobody ever saw it. A later car of the very same model in dark grey was much better. My current black cars don’t seem to have much problem, but I do keep my eyes open.

    On side note, back in the late 60’s or early 70’s a friend made an effort to drive the least conspicuous cars possible, theorizing that he could speed, smoke dope, and whatnot, with impunity. It seems to have worked. The champion was a tan, two door Valiant. These days I’d expect a silver-gray Toyota Corolla would do the job nicely.

  9. Heidi Nemeth says

    My silver gray Toyota Corolla is so inconspicuous I often lose it in parking lots. But the color masks the sooty dirty -- or salty dirt in winter -- which accumulates on the car.

    I recently read a study about taxi colors. The conclusion was that yellow cabs have significantly fewer accidents than blue cabs.

    Many years ago I remember a study about car colors which concluded that red cars suffer the most accidents because red is not visible in our peripheral vision. Over the years I have been surprised by a handful of red cars magically appearing where I had thought there was no car, then realized I had missed the red car by not looking directly in its direction. Consequently, I won’t buy a red car.

    As for light colored winter coats, they get to looking really terrible if you brush up against your car, say by cleaning your windshield or getting a heavy suitcase out of the trunk, when the salt truck has has preceded your efforts. Dark coats are better camouflage for the salt/dirt.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    My brother, who is a generally safe driver, bought a car that was gray. It suffered quite a few accidents. Most of them were not out on the highway, but parking lot fender benders. In those situations, when people could theoretically take their time but do not, the most straightforward explanation is that the color caused people not to see it as anything but background.

    Optimal color choice probably differs with season, but I only own one car.

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