Here’s Why The U.S. Doesn’t Require Amber Turn Signals

The reason is not very complicated, but the whole situation is a little unusual.

byPeter Holderith|
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Federal automobile authorities in the United States are unique globally for not requiring turn signals on taillights to be amber. Most of the rest of the world says they have to be orange, and that they cannot be just red like the brake lights. The answer is pretty simple, but the context is a little more complicated. The short answer? Because it never has.

Feds give automakers the option to go with red or amber for turn signals depending on their preference. This is interesting for a few reasons. The first is that the National Highway Safety Administration has actually put out a report that claims amber turn signals help prevent accidents in a significant way, considering how small of a change it is.

And though you might think the NHTSA would have the authority to mandate amber turn signals, it's unclear as, so far, it has not done so despite issuing proclamations on other aspects of vehicle design and safety.


It's unusual in the context of automakers' decisions, too. In the European Union, cars are required to have amber turn signals. However, when cars from European manufacturers make it stateside, some of them get refitted with U.S.-spec taillights that are red.

The current generation BMW 3 Series is an example of this.

In a nutshell, it's simpler just to make them red and most automakers think it looks better aesthetically. It also saves money and the amount of customers that won't buy a car because the turn signals are red instead of orange is likely slim, to say the least.

Some companies, like Mazda, do use amber turn signals elsewhere. However, it does it change them to red for the U.S. market. Thank you, Mazda.


So why do American cars not have amber turn signals on the back? It's because that's the way it has always been, and no one has made enough noise to change it. There's nothing illegal about swapping your European car with Euro taillights if you want the peace of mind of a slight safety advantage, but that's a lot of trouble for most people to go through.

Modern LED taillights can be expensive, though, and replacing them can be more difficult than it's worth. And automakers likewise don't want to go through the trouble of fitting cars with them.

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