Why Police Cars Are Often Black and White – Now admit it, when you hear a police siren blaring around the corner, you’re already expecting to see a sedan painted in certain colors rushing past you. But have you ever wondered why exactly police cars are painted in black and white? In fact, there are plenty of reasons for that in any given country.
Let’s take the USA and Canada for example. When first North American police cars appeared in the early 1900s, pretty much all automobiles were painted black, not black and white, and law enforcers weren’t any exception. There’s even a rather cheeky quote by Henry Ford himself: “You can get any color you want, as long as it is black”. Painting cars in other colors wasn’t a thing until about the 1930s, along with the red rotating lights on the roof.
When paint became popular, most authorities across the US thought it prudent to make police cars easily recognizable to the public. And so they worked out a color palette that would be both symbolic and affordable for the budget: black and white. Typically, the front and the back of the car would be painted black, while the doors and roof would be white, with the word “Police” written in black across them.
Yes, that’s exactly how police cars are black and white in many states. Such a monochrome design proved to be very efficient: people would instantly recognize a police car as such, and it was also not hard to give it another paint job in case it was given to a detective or an undercover officer. With the appearance of vinyl decals, however, it became increasingly easy to paint a car in whatever colors you wanted.
With that in mind, many cities, counties, and even whole states changed their traditional colors to other, more flamboyant ones. After a while, though, most of them returned to the milder, more official tones. The most popular explanation was that the more or less unified color palette inspires confidence and reliability of the law.
Whatever the reason, though, modern city police cars in the US have three distinct colors on them: black, white, and blue, with an occasional gray here and there. As for the European police, they took a bit different route. Originally, most police cars in Europe and the UK were white with distinct markings on them in either black, blue, or red.
Take the British traffic police car, for instance, which was dubbed “jam sandwich” for its white body with a thick red stripe running through the midsection. Just like black, the white color was chosen for two reasons: it was cheap and easy to adapt if needed. But then, in the 1990s, the revolution came: the Battenburg markings.
Developed in the UK (and named after a cake, by the way), this distinct pattern became a standard for the British, Australian, and many of the European police cars. And not only police, but all emergency services in these countries. The markings look like alternating squares of two different colors — kinda like a chessboard.
Every country uses its own palette, but most of them have one thing in common: at least one of the colors is fluorescent; yellow, most likely. The reason for such a radical redesign is simple enough: making the emergency services highly visible. Just imagine a busy street in a big city. Heavy traffic, horns blaring all around, engines roaring, that sort of thing.
Then, an emergency siren blasts, but the sound seems to go from all directions at once. The trouble is that in a city, where there are lots of tall buildings, a loud noise goes jumping and reflecting from all those flat surfaces. Ever been in such a situation? Leave a comment if you have! Anyway, as a result, you can’t really understand which way to look for its source.
And here’s where the bright colors of the Battenburg markings come into play. Only the emergency services are allowed to bear them, which makes these vehicles immediately recognizable even in the heavy traffic. So there you are, in the middle of the road with hundreds of other cars, hearing that distinct blare, and seeing a police car with its rotating lights on.
Alright, so the Battenburg markings are quite popular around the world, but there are still many countries that use their own colors and palettes to distinguish police cars from other members of the traffic. In the Czech Republic, for example, most police vehicles have striped decals running alongthe bottom of the side of the car.
The stripes are two-colored too, and their function is still the same: to make the vehicle instantly recognizable. There’s one small detail, however, that makes Czech police cars stand out: the position of the stripes is so low to better reflect the headlight beams. While the Battenburg markings in other countries are located in the middle section of the car, they sometimes aren’t lit up enough to immediately put your finger on them as belonging to an emergency vehicle.
When light-reflecting stripes are put lower on the body of a car, they always get enough light to be seen for what they are. But probably the most visible police cars ever reside in Dubai. The police force in that wealthy city has perhaps the most expensive set of vehicles in the world. Apart from regular patrol cars, the Dubai government has bought luxury sport cars that are faster and more powerful than anything else on the road.
They have distinct police markings, of course, but such a seemingly lavish move has an additional purpose: PR. Dubai creates a picture of the richest and most luxurious city in the world, and having their police officers drive around in Lamborghinis and Ferraris does a lot to add to this image. Okay, colors of emergency cars make sense.
But did you know there were other, more subtle differences in police cars from regular ones? One of them is that police vehicles are generally more powerful than those available to the public. All around the world, governments place special orders for their police cars. They might look similar from the outside (well, apart from the colors, obviously), but what’s inside them and under their hood is very much different.
They’re mostly not faster than regular cars, but to carry around all the equipment a police officer on duty might need, a car requires more horsepower. Also, if we take the US as an example, major American automakers have a special “police package”. It means they make cars designed especially for police purposes, and those might be different.
For instance, there are vehicles designed for pursuit: they have modified chassis and are equipped with better tires to give chase more efficiently. While in pursuit, cars often have to make sharp turns and exceed the speed limits, so the additional modifications help the police to run down bad guys with style.
It also helps to have a better suspension to jump the curbs at speed if necessary. Other features of your typical police car include heavy duty… well, pretty much everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s a patrol car or an interceptor; police officers have a lot of gear to haul around in it. So if the car has regular characteristics, it might not be able to drive faster than a certain limit.
That’s why police cars mostly have heavier and more powerful batteries, as well as springs to carry all that weight inside them. Performance-wise, however, such improvements don’t really make police cars stand out— they just make them capable of doing their job. In many cases, regular cars beat police ones at every corner.
But there’s one thing the police have that makes almost every car chase a success: communication. You see, when someone zooms off from an officer on patrol, they don’t immediately give chase,but report to the headquarters. Then the officer turns on the siren and stays on the radio to report their actions.
The police car might — and in many cases will — be slower than the culprit’s, but the runaway driver will soon have to deal with a small army of cops, pressing down on them from all sides. And that’s the only real advantage of the police cars.
Alright, so was the explanation of the article about why police cars are black and white.