Defective colour vision is a risk factor in driving

  • B. L. Cole
  • J. D. Maddocks
Part of the Documenta Ophthalmologica Proceedings Series book series (DOPS, volume 59)


Verriest et al (1980) claimed ‘definite proof that colour-defective drivers do not have more accidents than people with normal colour vision’ by showing that colour-defective drivers were not over-represented in a sample of 2058 male drivers who had caused a traffic accident. In the same paper, however, it is shown that protans have significantly more rear-end collisions and other accidents caused by overlooking signal lights. Deutans had more accidents at traffic lights. The differing conclusions can only be reconciled by assuming that colour-defective drivers have fewer other accidents to compensate for their greater frequency of accidents involving signal lights, and this is inherently improbable.

Verriest et al were incorrect to conclude, from their data, that defective colour vision is not a risk factor in driving, because their sample size was too small and the study lacked a control group. Even so, they found that 8.41% of the accident-causing sample had defective colour vision, somewhat more than the usually-assumed 8%.

The odds ratio for defective colour vision as a risk factor, calculated from comparison of the Verriest et al data with those reported by European investigators, was 1.11 This is not significant, but the confidence interval raises the statistical possibility that the odds ratio may be as high as 1.31.

It is to be expected that drivers with defective colour vision will have difficulty locating and recognizing traffic signals because of their reduced ability to differentiate colours and, in the case of protans, their reduced ability to see red signals. We present data that shows that about 20% of anomalous trichromats and nearly 60% of dichromats admit to difficulty recognizing colours while 10-15% of protans admit to difficulty seeing red signal lights. The accident data of Verriest et al (1980) and also those of Hager (1963), taken with other evidence, lead to the conclusion that defective colour vision is a risk factor for driving. However, it is a risk that bears only on the 8% of drivers who have defective colour vision and the number of accidents due to defective colour vision will therefore be relatively small, probably no more than 4 in 1000 accidents. Nevertheless it would be in the public interest to apply a colour vision standard at least for drivers of commercial and public transport vehicles, since they drive greater distances than private drivers and the social cost of accidents involving commercial and public transport vehicles is higher.


Colour Vision Colour Vision Deficiency Professional Driving Male Driver Brake Light 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bureau of Transport and Communication Economics (1992). Social cost of transport accidents in Australia. Report 79. Aust. Govt. Pub. Service., CanberraGoogle Scholar
  2. CIE (1980). Light signals form rodtraffic control. CIE Publication 48, CIE Central Bureau, ParisGoogle Scholar
  3. Cole B.L. and Vingrys A.J. (1983). Do protanomals have difficulty seeing red lights? Proc. CIE 20th Session, Amsterdam, 1983. CIE: 1-3. CIE Central Bureau, ParisGoogle Scholar
  4. Crone R.A. (1968). Incidence of known and unknown colour vision defects. Ophthalmologica. 155:37–55PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Francois J. Verriest G. Mortier V. and Vanderdonck R. (1957). De la fréquence des dyschromatopsies congenitales chez l’homme. Ann. Oculist., Paris. 190: 5–16. Cited in Crone (1968)Google Scholar
  6. Gramberg-Danielsen B. (1961). Untersuchungen über die Unfallhäufigkeit von Farbenuntüchigen im Strassenverkehr. Klin. Mb1. Augenheilk. 139: 677–681Google Scholar
  7. Hager G. (1963). Das Sehorgan und das Unfallgeschehen im Strassenverkehr. Klin. Mbl. Augenheilk. 142: 427–433PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Kherumian R. and Pickford R.W. (1959). Hérédité et fréquence des dyschromatopsies: p. 109. Vigot Fréres, Paris. Cited in Crone (1968)Google Scholar
  9. Koliopoulos J., Iordanides P., Palimeris G. and Chimonidou E. (1976). Data concerning colour vision deficiencies amongst 29,985 young Greeks. Mod. Probl. Ophthal. 17: 161–164Google Scholar
  10. Mann I. and Turner C. (1956). Color vision in native races in Australasia. Am. J. Ophthal. 41: 797–800PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Nathan J., Henry G.H. and Cole B.L. (1964). Recognition of colored road traffic light signals by normal and color-vision-defective observers. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 54: 1041–1045PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Nelson J.H. (1938). Anomalous trichromatism and its relation to normal trichromatism. Proc. Phys. Soc. (Lond.) 50: 661–702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Norman L.G. (1960). Medical aspects of road safety. Lancet i: 1039–1045CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Robbins H.G. and Bailey I.L. (1975). The organisation and findings of a school vision screening service. Aust. J. Optom. 58: 392Google Scholar
  15. Sachsenweger R. and Nothaass E. (1961). Eine Analyse von 4011 Verkehrsunfällen aus augenärztlicher Sicht. Dts.Gesundh. Wed. 12: 567–872Google Scholar
  16. Schmidt I. (1936). Ergebnis einer Massenuntersuchung des Farbensinns mit dem Anomaloscop. Z. Babnärzte. 2: 1–10 Cited in Crone (1968)Google Scholar
  17. Steward J.M. and Cole B.L. (1989a). Incidence of congenital colour vision defects in an Australian optometric population. In: Drum B. and Verriest G. (eds), Colour Vision Deficiencies IX: 109–111. Kluwer, DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Steward J.M. and Cole B.L. (1989b). What do color vision defectives say about everyday tasks? Optom. Vis. Sci. 66: 288–295PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Vernon P and Straker A. (1943). Distribution of colour blind men in Great Britain. Nature, Lond. 152: 690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Verriest G., Neubauer O., Marré M. and Uvijls A. (1980). New investigations concerning the relationships between congenital colour vision defects and road traffic security. Int. Ophthal. 2: 87–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. von Planta P. (1928). Die Häufigheit der angeborenen Farbensinnstörungen bei Knaben und Mädchen und ihre Feststellung durch die üblichen klinischen Proben. Graefes Arch. Ophthal. 120: 253–281. Cited in Crone (1968)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Waaler G.H.M. (1927). Über die Erblichkeitsverhältnisse der verschiedenen Arten von angebor-ener Rot-Grün-Blindheit. Acta Ophthal., Kbh. 5: 309–347. Cited in Crone (1968)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Zehnder E. (1971). Die Bewahrung farbensinngestorter Motorfahrzeuglenker im Verkehr. Schweiz. Med. Wochenshr. 101: 530–537Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. L. Cole
    • 1
  • J. D. Maddocks
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences CNR KeppelThe University of MelbourneCarltonAustralia

Personalised recommendations