you are here: home > inthenews > red vs green fire trucks

Neuroscience For Kids

Red or Green Fire Trucks
Which are Safer?
December 5, 2014

fire truck Think of the color for a fire truck? Did you think of red? Most people do. But is red the safest color for these vehicles? Research conducted in the 1990s might surprise you.

Stephen Solomon and James King (1997) knew that many fire fighters were injured when they responded to or returned from an emergency. They also knew that the human visual system is most sensitive to wavelengths between 510 nm and 570 nm (greenish-yellow). Also, in low light conditions, people have trouble seeing red. This led Solomon and King to investigate the number of traffic accidents for red fire trucks and lime-yellow fire trucks over a four year period in Dallas, TX.

fire truck The researchers found that fire trucks painted red (or red and white) were involved in approximately three times more accidents than fire trucks painted lime green. Also, accidents involving lime green trucks were not as serious as those with red trucks because there were fewer injuries and tow aways.

fire truck More recent data confirm that traveling to emergencies is dangerous for firefighters. In 2008, 29 of 114 (24.5%) firefighters who died on duty were killed in a motor vehicle accident (US Fire Administration, 2009). So, if lime green fire trucks are involved in fewer accidents than red fire trucks, whey aren't all fire trucks painted lime green? The answer is not so simple. First, the earliest fire trucks were red, so some fire departments want to keep the old traditions alive by having red fire trucks. In fact, some fire departments who switched to lime green fire trucks are switching back to red fire trucks. Second, some studies have failed to find a difference in the number of accidents for red fire trucks and lime green fire truck. Third, because most people associate the color red with a fire truck, they recognized the emergency vehicle as important. Therefore, some people think that red fire trucks are just fine.

A report from the US Fire Administration (2009) mentions the following steps for maximum fire truck safety:

What Does This Have to Do With Neuroscience?

Some neuroscientists are interested in how the brain processes information related to our senses. By understanding how the visual system processes information about color, scientists may be able to help develop better and safer emergency vehicles.

References and more information:

Copyright © 1996-2014, Eric H. Chudler, University of Washington