Yellow Is Actually the Optimal Taxi Color

Hoops Hooley via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0
Hoops Hooley via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0 / Hoops Hooley via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-NC 2.0

Whether you consider it an eyesore or a cultural icon, the yellow cab is here to stay. Now, one Singapore-based study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences awards a big point in taxis’ favor: Yellow cars are less likely to get into accidents.

In the early 20th century, as cars became more prevalent and affordable, taxi outfits like the Chicago Yellow Cab company chose to paint their cars a single color to increase their visibility, both as a brand and on the roads, as the gaudy cars were impossible to miss on the city’s sooty streets.

Today, yellow cabs remain the standard in cities across the U.S. and the globe. In Singapore, cabs are generally one of two colors, thanks to a merger between two large cab companies—one that used yellow cabs, and one that used blue.

Yellow is the easiest and most distinctive color for humans to see; consequently, yellow cars have long been considered the most conspicuous, and therefore the most likely to avoid collisions. But is this actually true?

To find out, researchers analyzed the collision rates of 16,700 Singaporean taxis (4175 yellow and 12,525 blue) over the course of three years.

The yellow cars won the day by a landslide. The results showed that yellow cars had around six fewer accidents per month per 1000 cars. “If the company changed the color of its entire fleet of 12,525 blue taxis to yellow, 76.4 fewer accidents would occur per month, or 917 fewer accidents per year,” the researchers noted.

They also calculated risk to passengers, using a theoretical rider who commutes by taxi five days a week. Over the course of a 40-year career, the authors found, that commuter would have 1.1 accidents in blue taxis but only 1 in yellow taxis. That’s a 9 percent difference, which may not seem like much until you consider that we’re talking about car accidents.

The authors recommended that taxi companies consider switching to all-yellow fleets, which will serve the old dual purpose of increasing brand visibility and preventing costly accidents: “It could turn out that a simple commercial decision made by the Chicago Yellow Cab company more than a century ago has an inadvertent, positively impactful economic and potentially life-saving outcome that we can adopt and expand on, starting today.”