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Volkswagen Tiguan

I am convinced that amber rear signal lights are much safer (I have driven cars with red and amber, and find that drivers behind me do not notice the red ones as readily). Obviously, I am not the only one, since the EU and most of the world requires rear signal lights to be amber. In light of this, do you know why Audi, BMW and Mercedes are now using red signal lights here? I am puzzled and quite disappointed – it's not as safe, and it looks cheap. Volkswagen even left the new Tiguan rear lenses intact from Europe, including the amber strip for the signal light, but configured the signal to share the brake bulb.– John

The rules are likely the biggest reason you're seeing red on North American roads, car makers say.

"The colour of the turn signals on vehicles in Europe is legislated to be amber," says Thomas Tetzlaff, spokesman for Volkswagen Canada. "In North America, there is no such legislation, but there are different regulations about the minimal surface area of the blinkers."

North American regulations say rear signal lights can be either red or amber. Canada and the U.S. specify a minimum size for turn signal lights, but regulations in the rest if the world do not, Transport Canada says.

Often, the easiest way for companies to get their turn signals big enough, without building brand new rear lights specifically for North America, is to also use the brake light as a turn signal, Tetzlaff says.

"In many cases, you will notice manufacturers, including us, using brake lights as their turn signals in order to comply with the North American regulations," Tetzlaff says.

Some models, like VW's Tiguan, keep the amber European lenses but use the brake light as the signal – so the turn signal is amber and red.

BMW 3-Series World Premiere in Munich. October, 2011. BMW BMW

BMW uses the brake lights for turn signals, but changes the European amber for red – so both the signals and brakes lights are red.

"Utilizing a red signal allows us to meet the surface area requirement without a redesign of the basic structure of the taillamp assembly, which, as you can imagine, would be a costly endeavour," says BMW Canada spokesman Robert Dexter. "The red signal option offers a practical solution which fully meets considerations of design and production costs."

Rules aside, are amber signals lights easier to see than red signal lights?

A 2009 report by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) looking at data from 1981-2005 says amber signal lights were about 5 per cent more effective than red signal lights at preventing collisions.

Rules aside, Dexter personally thinks the red signal lights just look better – they blend in seamlessly with the red brake lights.

"I did a quick straw poll with my colleagues and they unanimously prefer the red option, generally stating that it provides a smoother, more integrated contour which complements the design of the trunk lid," he says.

Send your automotive questions to Jason Tchir at

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