Why cars have red tailights? 

If we take a closer look, the glass of the tailights are red and so are their light bulbs along with the brake lights… Why not another more brilliant color like green, yellow or white? shouldn‘t those colors stand out more in the dark and make us more visible to other drivers sharing the road with us?

If we look carefully, the tailights and the lights emanating from them when braking have always been red. The question is the “why” of this, it is understood that in the front we will have a headlight with white, yellow or the intense white coming from Xenon lights. White is the color that will give the most brightness, and henceforth it will allow us to identify any obstacle on the road, other cars or pretty much see the road ahead of us. But… why tailights are red?

The origin of the red tailight dates from the 19th century when motorized transport made it’s appearance, but not in cars neither on carriages pulled by horses… The origin of the red tailights however, starts on a transport that was older than the car… Trains! As well all know, this transportation system which arose earlier than cars required a higher degree of organization and signaling. Soon they began to use headlights and lamps to communicate with other trains, stations, railroad workers… Our famous stoplights as well have their origin on railroads, in which red meant that the track was clear and red meant that there was a train occupying that segment of track.

But why red was an indication of a tail or braking? The color red has been associated for centuries with danger, like poisonous fruits, insects or animals like the strawberry poison frog. Railways not only used red tailights to signal the tail end of a train, but as well to indicate the dimensions of a wagon even when driving through dark areas. A system that even freight trucks or modern freight wagons use with either lights or reflective bands around them.

Therefore, the red color of our tailights have both their origin on railways and the association of the color red with danger. The jump from the train to the car soon happened when the few car manufacturers of the 1930s noticed that traffic on the roads was increasing, and that a visual  comunication was required to both indicate other drivers their position on the road and increase safety on the roads.

However, at first only a rear tailight was installed on the rear of the vehicle to indicate a car’s position. It wasn’t until later that advances in electronics that allowed systems to equip dual tailights, or the inclusion of relays that allowed for blinkers that would help convey to other drivers or pedestrians our intention to turn left or right on the road.

So…. next time you get pulled over for one of your tailights going out, don’t be angry…  it is for your own safety, and the safety of other drivers and pedestrians that those tailights work properly. And remember… keep a safe distance with other cars unless you want to get an unexpected closeup of their tailights if an emergency happens on the road.

Have you liked this short blog post? if you invented taillights which color would you have tinted them? leave a comment below!


Published in Car Stories

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