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Turn signals

Does anyone know who regulates the colors of rear turn signals? Some years, automobiles have an amber color and some years they are the same red as the brake lights. I don’t know if it the car company or an organization like the NHTSC who regulate that. I have just been very curious about this.

Many cars use the same rear assemblies, left and right, for all rear bulbs. Therefore all bulbs shine through the same red plastic lens and all will appear red. If separate housings are used, it’s possible the manufacturer might use amber lenses for the turn signals. I don’t know if the colors of turn signals are regulated other than red or amber.


It depends on where the manufacturer planned on releasing that vehicle, and whether they planned on changing parts to release it there.

For example, in Europe (and the UK, Ireland, Scotland, and many others) amber blinkers are required - here in the US they are not (law says amber or red). Consequently, companies that build cars (mostly American made) for release in the US market often use red only. Most foreign cars use amber, because world-wide, it’s legal.

probably cheaper to have 1 bulb that does double duty than having 2 separate bulbs

Could be…dunno. I would think the electrics involved must cost, but no idea how much.

1 bulb would also cut down on the copper for an additional circuit…which seems silly, but over 10,000 cars, it might add up. Can’t see much in it, either way.

NHTSA issues the lighting regulations or legally called the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS).

At one time, only red was allowed on the rear of the vehicle. Red has the quality of impairing night vision less than other colors. Sometime during the late 60’s and/or early 70’s, car magazines and foreign manufacturers campaigned to allow amber for turn signals. Some wanted to use amber for taillights as well.

Personally, I think the NHTSA has caved in to manufacturers way to often on safety issues, including this one. Unfortunately too many states have watered down their safety enforcement and safety laws caving into special interest groups. For example, repealing bumper height laws and helmet laws have created much more dangerous road conditions. Anyway, this is getting off topic so I will end here.

I don’t see the danger in having amber turn signals. If nothing else, it’s a signal that you’re not seeing tail or brake lights, and so it helps to differentiate what you’re looking at. If your vision is so poor that an amber turn signal will make conditions hazardous to you, I would submit that you should not be driving.

If by repealing bumper height laws you mean people with trucks can have bumpers 3 feet in the air, I agree with you entirely. I noticed some idiot with a jacked-up pickup the other day. His bumper was taller than the roof of my MR2. If he hit me, I’d be taking the differential right in the face. Ridiculous.

Can’t agree about the helmet laws, though - - wearing a helmet doesn’t make the road conditions any less safe. It just increases the danger to the idiot that thinks going 70mph with no skull protection is a good idea. It doesn’t increase the danger to anyone else on the road. I’m fine with repealing helmet laws provided we make the motorcyclist sign a form that agrees no public resources will be used in his medical care following any sort of wreck which damages his head.

Amber lights do reduce night vision in ALL people. In most cases it doesn’t reduce it enough to be a hazard, but a situation could become critical depending on ambient light and timing and it could happen to anyone, even you.

Agree with you on helmet laws, I wasn’t very clear, it does increase the danger to the rider. It doesn’t make since though when a state requires drivers and passengers in cars and truck to wear seatbelts, stop at all stop signs and red lights, but allow motorcycle riders over the age of 18 to forgo helmet laws and exempt them from stopping at red lights and stop signs of they don’t see anyone coming. Tennessee.

Bikes aren’t exempted from lights if they don’t see anyone coming. This came about because the sensors in the road aren’t sensitive enough to “see” a bike. We still have to stop, we still have to wait, and if the lights go all the way through a sequence, and we’re ignored, we can go when it’s safe.

As far as helmets go…let Darwin have his contenders. I do, and always will ride with a “brain bucket”.


I liked the blue tail lights that were popular back in the 1950s. One could purchase a small blue dot lens that was fitted on the tail light lens and gave the tail lights a blueish purple glow. I think that these devices are illegal now. However, police cars have flashing red and blue lights to make them more visible.

In some states the blue dot lights are still legal as long as it’s on a classic car.

Keith - I know amber reduces night vision, but I’d argue that sealed-beam white lights reduce it a lot more, and I don’t think anyone’s going to advocate making headlights illegal :wink: In other words, while yellow light can reduce night vision, at the intensities we’re talking about it’s going to have a negligible effect.

I agree with you about seatbelt laws - I think they’re silly as well (with the exception of kids - - people who aren’t old enough to know better should be protected from parents who are idiots). If you want to risk your own life, and no one’s life but your own, as far as I’m concerned you can have at. I’d rather the cops be busy pulling over the drunks and street racers rather than people who aren’t wearing seat belts.

In Ohio, they have to have a reason to pull you over before they can give a seatbelt ticket. If you aren’t driving 15 over the limit or swerving in and out of traffic, they can’t pull you over for just a seatbelt violation.

I actually prefer Amber signal lights…when I was in college I was traveling down a hill and this woman in front of me signaled she was turning left (No brake lights)…So she started to slow down…so I pulled over to the right to go around her…She then turned RIGHT…and I hit her broad-side. Luckily I had slowed down a lot and was only traveling about 15mph…but still did a lot of damage.

The problem was she actually WASN’T signaling at all…and only her Left brake light was working. She was actually pumping her brakes and the left brake light was going on and off making it look like she was signaling a left hand turn. If her signal lights were amber then I would have known that she wasn’t turning, but just pumping her brakes…

Let’s solve the problem by bringing back the little arms the flipped out from behind the front doors that indicated a turn. I remember seeing these on a 1956 Volkswagen that a serviceman had brought into this country and hadn’t been converted to U.S. standards.

Triedaq, We Called Them Semaphore Turn Signals. We Actually Had Some On In A Parts Bin Collecting Dust When I Worked At A Volkswagen Dealer A Couple (Lots Of Couple) Years Back.

Women (inventors) and Turn Signals:
Speaking of t-signals, I just read this story last week.’s-automotive-feats--hear-them-roar


CSA–thank you. I forgot that these were called Semaphore Turn Signals. I tried out a 1956 VW in 1962 that was equipped with these semaphore turn signals. I didn’t purchase it because the odometer read about 66,000 and I didn’t know how long these engines would go without an overhaul. However, on the road test, I couldn’t believe how fast it would go–I had it up to 100. After I returned the car to the dealer, I talked to a mechanic who was a friend. He agreed with me that at 66,000, it might be a gamble. However, he didn’t think I had it up to 100. He claimed that the speedometers didn’t even register that high. “This one did”, I replied. “It registered all the way up to 120”. He then asked me to tell him about the turning signals. When I told him about the arms that came out, he really laughed. “You weren’t going 100 miles per hour, you were going 100 kilometer per hour. The VW has a little over 40,000 miles. Maybe you had better go back and look again”. Well, I did go back, but someone else beat me and had purchased it.

Funny Story. My Bonneville’s Got A Button Right On the Dashboard That Switches The Car From MPH/Miles To KPH/Km And Back. I’ve Hit It Before And Did A " What The . . . ? "