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 colors they use? 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, 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 still
look today 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 chess board. 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 (such as a siren) 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 along the 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. Well, if you’re not in Dubai, that is. And about those Dubai police cars, they are
a very expensive decision. But as Shakespeare’s Hamlet once famously
asked: “Dubai or not Dubai. That is the question.” Alright, if you learned something new today,
then give the video a like and share it with a friend! And here are some other videos I think you’ll
enjoy. Just click to the left or right, and stay
on the Bright Side of life!

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