I've always thought white and silver cars were less likely to be involved in accidents because they were more visible, whereas black and dark grey cars would be involved in more accidents because they can be more difficult to see under certain driving conditions. Is this true? – Bryan in Toronto
Few would disagree that a canary-yellow car stands out like a sore thumb, but auto industry experts in North America say data doesn't exist to support your belief that vehicle colour has an impact on the number of accidents.
"It's not true. It's also tied into the myth that people driving red cars get charged higher insurance rates – and that's a fallacy as well. Car colour is not a consideration; it's just one of those myths that seems to recur on a regular basis," says Pete Karageorgos, manager of Ontario Consumer and Industry Relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).
Given the ability of insurance companies to draw profits, it would seem a telling sign that vehicle colour has no impact auto insurance rates. "The colour of your vehicle is not even asked on the Ontario auto insurance application, therefore I would say that light colours or dark colours are no more or less likely to be involved in accidents, or insurance companies and their actuaries would have built rates for different coloured cars," says Anne Marie Thomas, manager at InsuranceHotline.com.
"There may be some benefit to lighter-coloured vehicles, but the effect is probably very small. The risk of crashing is much more driven by the type of vehicle that you're driving. For example, high-performance cars and small cars tend to get in more crashes than big family cars or mini-vans," says Russ Rader, spokesman for the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Above all else, however, experts say that the type of driver you are affects crash rates. "A person's driving history and driving ability matters, regardless of the colour of the vehicle they drive. You might drive a plaid car, but be a lousy driver – and for that reason you'd be at greater risk of having an accident," says Karageorgos.
If insurers don't care about car colour, do legislators? According to Transport Canada and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, no rules govern which colours auto makers can utilize for vehicle body paint. With so many components of the auto industry regulated to ensure passenger safety – headrests, seat belts, and even dashboard knobs among them – it stands to reason that because vehicle colour is not regulated, it doesn't affect safety.
Or does it?
A study in the 1980s by the Volunteer Fire Department in Oswego, N.Y., found that by painting fire engines lime-yellow rather than traditional red, fire departments could reduce their crash rates by more than 15 per cent.
In 2007, the Accident Research Centre at Monash University in Australia published its investigation into the relationship between vehicle colour and crash risk. This study was based on the review and analysis of real accident data from more than 850,000 crashes that either resulted in injury or the towing of a vehicle. These vehicles were classified into 17 colour categories. In conclusion, the authors found that:
"Results of the analysis identified a clear statistically significant relationship between vehicle colour and crash risk. Compared to white vehicles, a number of colours were associated with higher crash risk. These colours are generally those lower on the visibility index and include black, blue, grey, green, red and silver. No colour was statistically significantly safer than white although a number of other colours could not be distinguished from white statistically in terms of relative crash risk. The association between vehicle colour and crash risk was strongest during daylight hours where relative crash risks were higher for the colours listed compared to white by up to around 10 per cent."
With so many conflicting opinions, there is clearly room for more study in this area. Research has yet to (conclusively) prove a correlation between vehicle colour and accident rates.
In the meantime, we should all stay focused on our driving skills.
E-Mail your automotive questions to Ask Joanne at firstname.lastname@example.org