Why Tail And Brake Lights Are Red In Colour (And Why You Should Not Change It)

There is a reason for everything. This one is no joke, people.

  • By: Afiqah
  • Friday, 23 June 2017
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Why Tail And Brake Lights Are Red In Colour (And Why You Should Not Change It)
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You don’t have to know who Tracy Beaker is to hold on to the principle of ‘Dare to be different’. Many of us are trying our level best to do something that would set us apart from the rest.

Well, your vehicle is a medium that you could use to showcase and embrace your uniqueness with different styles and/or modifications to it. Some opt for extravagant stickers while some build up their sweet ride with pricey body kits. After all, that precious machinery reflects your identity and it is exhibited every single time you drive it!

But living in a world with rules and regulations to adhere to, there are things you are not allowed to do – no matter how cool you think it is. More often than not, there is a good reason (or many reasons for that matter) behind a ruling.

Nobody's gonna judge your six-wheeled Kancil.So, this brings us to a story we would like to share (please bear with us).

Recently, while out on the road at night, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, we were behind a sedan which tail lamps have been altered. By altered, we mean, instead of it emitting the usual red lights, it emitted a bright, eye-piercing white light like what one would normally have for the front lights.

As if the glare from the white tail lights weren’t bad enough already, the brake lights were also white! To make matters worse, the driver kept slamming on his brakes throughout the wait, resulting in a blinding light show we did not sign up for!

So, that got us thinking: is this even legal?

We get to the bottom of the 'mystery'

With that, we got in touch with Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan Malaysia (JPJ) to get further clarification on the matter.

It turns out, using lights of other colours than red for your tail light and brake light is a very serious offence, according to Mohd Affizul Ariff and Azzaharin Bin Allias from the Automotive Engineering Department of the JPJ. 

This is the explanation given by the helpful officers:

Vehicle’s Tail Light and Brake Light
  1. Based on the provisions of the existing Laws which is the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Rules 1959, each motor vehicle used on the road shall be equipped with a backlight on the rear of the vehicle i.e. the tail lights and brake lights that comply with such technical provisions The following: -
  1. Method 96 (Vehicle tail lights)  
  • Each vehicle shall be equipped with a back lamp that emits a red light which is visible from a reasonable distance.
  1.  Method 26 (Vehicle brake lights); and
  • Each vehicle must also be equipped with a stop lamp mounted on the back of the vehicle with a steady red light.
  1. Comply with relevant United Nations (UN) Regulations, namely United Nations (UN) Regulation. 7 (Front / Rear Lamps, Stop Lamps & Marker Lamps) and United Nations (UN) Regulation No. 48 (Installation of Lighting Devices)
  • Every new model of a motor vehicle must comply with the provisions of R7 Rule Regulations as well as the UN R48 Rule through the Vehicle Type Approval (VTA) process where it is a technical requirement for definitions, dimensions, specifications (colour), testing procedures and e-marking to the component/lighting system.
Examples of Vehicle’s Tail Light and Brake Light
  1. With reference to the above technical provisions, the use and installation of tail lamps and brake lamps is a mandatory element for every vehicle whereby the use of the colour red is mandatory and in parallel with the technical internationally agreed on the framework of international vehicles which includes the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) as well as the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.
  1. Additionally, the use of red light on the tail lamp and brake lamp of a vehicle is for visual visibility by the vehicle at the back position especially at night and also when the vehicle brakes/slows down.

So, what happens if you're caught by the authorities?

According to Mohd Affizul Ariff, you will be issued with a PG1 notice (Notis Larangan Penggunaan).

Upon the issuance of the notice, you will usually have about a week to change your fancy brake lights back to the normal ones. You would then have to head back to the JPJ for further inspection by their officers.

Failing to do so will result in a very hefty summons for the offences of disobeying the notice and breaching the law.

On the other hand, if you encounter the traffic police instead, you may face a RM300 fine.  

So, do NOT take this lightly, guys! *Pun intended*

OK, but why the colour red though?

It is safe to say that the decision to use the colour red for tail and brake lights was not made randomly.

Besides the common, logical answer that red is a universal colour to indicate danger, there is a scientific reasoning to back up the choice of this particular colour as the ‘legit’ colour for your tail and brake lights.

Please channel your inner Sheldon Cooper for this!

So, there is this phenomenon called the refraction of light. If y’all actually paid attention in Science class, this would totally ring a bell.

It basically means the bending of light when it passes through one medium to another of different density.

It's basically the same concept as rainbows; why they have different colours and how they almost always appear in its correct sequence.

Well, here’s the thing – these colours are parts of the Electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes can see. The normal human eye is able to see colour spectrums with a wavelength of 390-700 nanometres (nm) with no hassle.

So, any radiation or interference with wavelengths that fall out of the visible spectrum category is something that the human eye cannot see.

It's some science thingy.
The lowest frequency in the visible spectrum is red while violet has the highest frequency. The fact that the relationship between frequency and wavelength is inversely proportional tells us that the colour red actually possesses maximum wavelength at 620-750 nm, while violet has the least at 380-450 nm.

So what this basically means is that minimal wavelength allows particles to disperse the colour even more. In other words, the colour violet deviates the most while red deviates the least.

Hence, objects that are of the colour red can be better seen from afar by the human eye compared to other colours.

As for the refraction part, despite interference from outside elements such as the air’s moisture content, water (from rain), fog and the varying temperature of flowing air, the colour red still emerges as the colour that travels the furthest compared to the other colours.

In fact, blinding lights such as the white light could cause flash blindness that could last for several seconds! It is even worse during night-time as flash blindness lasts longer when the pupils are dilated. The recovery rate, too, lasts longer at night.

This occurrence is extremely dangerous for users on the road. There are 1,001 things that could go wrong when you lose your vision while driving – no matter how short or long it may be.

The bottom line is this..

You should NEVER change the colour of your tail and brake lights from red to white - or any other colour for that matter!

If you have tampered with the tail and brake lights in such manner, please go and change it back to the original red light. The lights have little to do with aesthetic value. Its main function revolves around safety purposes for you, your family and other road users too.

And with that, we wish all of you a safe journey this Hari Raya period!

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