Depending on what area of the world or country you come from, many of us remember the old black-and-white police vehicles. They were unmistakable. For a while, you saw some pretty crazy colors on any number of emergency vehicles. Lately, however, we are seeing black-and-white again. What’s going on?
Old School Black and Whites
Here’s how the old-fashioned police cars were traditionally painted:
- Black – rear quarter panels, front fenders, hood, and trunk
- White – roofs and car doors
To distinguish cars that came off the assembly line in one color from civilian vehicles, these contrasts were added.
Through the years, and decades, sheriff’s departments and police departments used a variety of colors to broaden their color schemes. Recently, however, some agencies are turning back to the traditional black and white.
Paint Versus Vinyl Wrap
It was going to be a project, changing the colorful police cars that some departments adopted to all black, all white, or a combination of the two. What’s happening now is that police departments are purchasing a car in all white or all black. Then, rather than painting the contrasting color, to cover the perimeter of the cars, a wraparound decal is used.
For example, if the police department purchased an all-black Ford Crown Victoria, the car’s perimeter would be covered by a wraparound decal that is white in color. Conveniently, the department’s logo can be incorporated on these vinyl decals which have a five-year guarantee to them. This may or may not seem like a big-money saver to the layman, but per vehicle, approximately $1000 is being saved by this vinyl wrap around process.
Turns out, this is a cost-effective way to make police vehicles stand out from all other vehicles on the road.
The History of Colored Police Cars
Due to cost constraints, colors began to vary on police vehicles around the 1970s. A little bit of “flavor” and color was being added to police cars through vinyl striping. Police units in the 70s and 80s explored other colors such as tans, beiges, browns, greens, and blues. The overall look of the vehicle can be significantly impacted, even if a relatively subtle change in the color scheme is added.
For instance, a strip of highly reflective black and yellow material was added to Pennsylvania State Police cars about six years ago. It greatly improved visibility, especially at night.
Another example are the Colorado 1997 State Police cars which, after going to a darker hue from their traditional color, added – on the four side doors – light blue and black trim.
Reasons for Color Choices
Depending on the agency in question, the following reasons are cited for choosing certain colors and/or color schemes:
- Tradition (out of respect for the background and history of an agency)
- To blend in with the environment (great for speed traps)
- A distinctive look (distinguishes them from other vehicles)
- Increased visibility (thought to lead to fewer agency involved motor vehicle accidents)
Also contributing to the visibility and stand out features of today’s emergency vehicles are silkscreened graphics and LED lights. In the 2010’s, these became very popular with any number of agencies.
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