Heigh-Ho! Silver Cars Are Safer

Study finds car crashes aren't color-blind

Edward Edelson

Edward Edelson

Published on December 18, 2003

THURSDAY, Dec. 18, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The color of your car might affect your chance of being injured in a road accident, New Zealand researchers report.

Silver cars are less likely to be involved in a crash than autos of other colors, says a report by epidemiologists at the University of Auckland. Their analysis of statistics from a two-year study of auto accidents in Auckland also finds "a significant increased risk of a serious injury" in brown vehicles and a slightly increased risk for black and green cars.

The report comes in a traditionally semi-serious Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal that is devoted to studies determinedly off the beaten track. For example, another study is an analysis of how elderly and disabled pedestrians are depicted on road traffic signs in 119 countries.

But Sue Furness, a research fellow at the university's School of Public Health who submitted the car-color paper as her dissertation for a master's degree, stands by the results.

"Our conclusions are valid for the location where the study was done," Furness says. But, she adds, "how valid they are for other settings is questionable because studies haven't been done elsewhere."

Furness says that the study results would influence her choice of a car color, and that the color issue seems to be affecting auto buyers around the world.

"Silver cars are becoming more popular with new car buyers," she says.

A more jaundiced view is taken by Russ Rader, a spokesman for the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose experts went to the trouble of reading the paper with serious intent."The claim that car color could have this effect in reducing accidents is preposterous, but there will be people who read stories about this and think it reflects reality," Rader says.

Vehicle color has sometimes been taken seriously as an issue in highway safety, he acknowledges. Some communities have fire engines painted yellow rather than the traditional red in the belief that they are more easily identifiable, Rader acknowledges. But he adds, "there is no evidence that color has the kind of effect that the authors are finding."

"They have left out things like the driver's sex, vehicle engine size, vehicle age, and ambient light conditions," all of which can affect auto safety, Rader says.

Using statistics on more than 571 accidents that caused injuries in Auckland, Furness and her colleagues found that the risk of having a serious injury was 50 percent lower in silver cars than in autos that are white, yellow, gray, red or blue.

"Increasing the proportion of silver cars could be an effective passive strategy to reduce the burden of injury from car crashes," they write.

But, they do add, "the extent to which these results are generalizable to other settings is open to question."

More information

You can get model-by-model -- but colorless -- auto safety statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

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