Battenburg markings

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A UK ambulance with Battenburg markings
A London Ambulance, shown with Battenburg markings on the side and chevrons on the rear.

Battenburg markings or Battenberg markings[a] are a pattern of high-visibility markings used primarily on the sides of emergency service vehicles in several European countries as well as in New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Trinidad and Tobago. The name comes from its similarity in appearance to the cross-section of a Battenberg cake.


A British police motorcycle with reflective markings

Battenburg markings were originally developed in the mid-1990s in the United Kingdom by the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB) (now the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST)) at the request of the national motorway policing sub-committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers. They were first developed for the United Kingdom police forces to use on traffic patrol cars, although other private organisations and civil emergency services have since started to use the pattern on their vehicles.

The brief was to create a livery for motorway and trunk road police vehicles which would maximise the visibility of the vehicles when stopped on scene, both in daylight, and under headlights from a minimum distance of 500 metres (1,600 ft), and which would distinctively mark them as police vehicles.[1]

The key research objectives included:[2]

  • Enhance officer and vehicle conspicuity to reduce the likelihood of road accidents in which a vehicle is not noticed.
  • Recognisable as a police vehicle to a distance of 500 metres (1,600 ft) in daylight.
  • Assist in high-visibility policing for public reassurance and deterrence of traffic violations.
  • Identifiable nationally as a police vehicle.
  • A cost-neutral option compared with the average cost of the current markings.
  • Acceptable to at least 75% of the staff.


A BMW X5 of the Metropolitan Police Service in London, with Battenburg.

The Battenburg design uses a regular pattern and the contrast between a light and a dark colour to increase conspicuity for the human eye. The lighter colour is daylight-fluorescent (such as fluorescent-yellow) for better visibility in daytime and particularly also in dusk and dawn. For night-time visibility, the complete pattern is retroreflective.

The Battenburg design typically has two rows of alternating rectangles, usually starting with yellow at the top corner, then the alternating colour, along the sides of a vehicle. Most cars use two block rows in the design (so-called full-Battenburg scheme). Some designs for cars only use a single row (so-called half-Battenburg scheme) or one and a half rows.

Pattern markings can have a camouflage effect as well concealing the outline of the vehicle, particularly in front of a cluttered background.[3][4] For Battenburg markings, this can be avoided by the following means:

  • The pattern rectangles shall not be too small in order to allow for optical resolution from distance. The rectangle size shall be 600 x 300 mm at minimum.[1] A typical car pattern consists of seven blocks along the vehicle side. (Additionally, an odd number of blocks allows for both top corner blocks to be in the same fluorescent colour)
  • The vehicle outline of a car shall be clearly marked out in fluorescent colour along the roof pillars
  • Designs with more than two block rows shall be avoided even for higher vehicles. Instead, large area of plain or daylight-fluorescent color can be used in combination.
  • Hybrid designs of Battenburg markings and other high-visibility patterns or check patterns shall be avoided.[5]

The Battenburg livery is not used on the rear of vehicles, instead with the majority of users using upward facing chevrons in yellow and red to the rear, in line with the markings used by other road users.

Sillitoe Tartan[edit]

Australian highway patrol Holden Commodore with blue-and-white Sillitoe Tartan

During the development of Battenburg markings, one of the key functions was to clearly identify a vehicle as being linked to the police. In addition to the advantages in effectiveness tests, the pattern was also reminiscent of the Sillitoe Tartan pattern of black-and-white or blue-and-white chequered markings, first introduced by the City of Glasgow Police in the 1930s, and subsequently adopted as a symbol of police services throughout the United Kingdom and as far away as Chicago, Australia,[6] and New Zealand.

Subsequent to the launch of the markings of the vehicles, the police introduced retro-reflective Sillitoe tartan markings to their uniforms, usually in blue and white.

Sillitoe tartan patterns identify vehicles as associated with the police and sometimes other emergency services, but do not provide high visibility.


One purpose for conspicuity is to reduce accidents due to an emergency vehicle not being noticed in a situation not usual to traffic conditions, e.g., stopped in fast-moving traffic, or moving at a different speed or in a different direction. The Battenburg side markings, together often with chevron front and rear markings, are intended to reduce accidents due to "looked but failed to see". Several criticisms of the Battenburg scheme were raised at the October 2010 3rd Annual US Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Safety Summit in the context of use on ambulances, including the difficulty of applying it to small, curved, or odd-shaped surfaces, high costs, the confusing pattern caused when several parked Battenburg vehicles visually overlap, breaking up the vehicle shape against complex backgrounds or with open doors and hatches, and other combinations than police yellow/blue being less effective and even progressing to camouflage with some body colours. In particular transferring the pattern from UK police to other services and countries was criticised, making the public struggle to decipher unfamiliar markings. The high-visibility chevrons often used on the rear and front of Battenburg-marked vehicles "through popular opinion rather than by a scientific process of testing and research" were found not be effective at reducing rear-end collisions; the presence of a stationary vehicle on a high-speed road may be noticed, but not that it is stopped. Parking at an angle in such situations was a far more effective way of drawing attention to the motionlessness of a vehicle.[2]


An ambulance with side-only Battenburg markings.


In Western Australia St. John Ambulance WA uses green/yellow Battenburg markings on ambulances and patient transport vehicles.[7] WA is the only state that uses Battenburg markings. Emergency vehicles of other states utilize Sillitoe tartan markings.

Common Battenburg markings
used in Australia
Battenburg-ambulance.svg St John Ambulance WA Yellow / Green


New Belgian emergency ambulances with Battenburg markings (2018)

In response to the terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015 in Paris and 22 March 2016 in Brussels, the Belgian federal government conducted an analysis on the functioning of the emergency services during terrorist attacks. The main issue identified regarding the emergency medical services was that their recognizability (of both vehicles and personnel) had to improve, so that emergency workers would be able to identify qualified medical providers quicker during an intervention. An agreement was made between the federal government and the Communities and Regions to implement the same new vehicle markings and uniforms. Specifically, emergency ambulances and response vehicles would keep the yellow base color, whilst non-emergency ambulances would get a white base color. Both types of vehicles would be marked with retroreflective yellow/green Battenburg markings, similar to British ambulances. A new uniform for medical personnel was also introduced, with different colors for the Star of Life for the different types of workers.[8]

Aside from medical vehicles, some new fire brigade, Civil Protection and highway services vehicles also use respectively yellow/red, blue/orange and yellow/black Battenburg markings.

Common Battenburg markings
used in Belgium
Battenburg-ambulance.svg Emergency medical services Yellow / Green


All rescue vehicles in Bavaria, which have been procured uniformly since 2017 have a foiling in the Battenburg marker. [9]

Battenburg-blood.svg Bavarian Red Cross Orange / Yellow

Hong Kong[edit]

A Hong Kong Police Force vehicle with Battenburg marking

Hong Kong was a British Dependent Territory until 1997. Some emergency vehicles and special vehicles in the Hong Kong Police Force, Hong Kong Fire Services Department, Auxiliary Medical Service, and Hong Kong St. John Ambulance use Battenburg markings.

Common Battenburg markings
used in Hong Kong
Battenburg-police.svg Police Force, Traffic Branch Headquarters Yellow / Blue
Battenburg-white-blue.svg Police Force, a few other vehicles White / Blue
Battenburg-ambulance.svg Fire Services Department, Mobile Casualty Treatment Centre Yellow / Green
Battenburg-fire.svg Fire Services Department, Hazmat Tender, and Fire Motorcycle Yellow / Red
Fire Services Department, Mobile Publicity Unit, and Fire Safety Education Bus
Fire Services Department, Emergency Medical Assistant Motor Cycle, Rapid Response Vehicle and Paramedic Equipment Tender
Battenburg-white-red.svg Fire Services Department, Mobile Command Unit, and Forward Command Car White / Red
Battenburg-ambulance.svg Auxiliary Medical Service, Paramedic motorcycle Yellow / Green
Hong Kong St. John Ambulance, Ambulance


A Land Rover Defender field ambulance from Dublin Civil Defence, Ireland
Emergency ambulance in Dublin, Ireland

In Ireland, a similar system to the UK is used with some variations.

Coast guard vehicle in Howth, Dublin, Ireland
Common Battenburg markings
used in Ireland
Battenburg-police.svg Garda Síochána (police) Yellow / Blue
Battenburg-ambulance.svg HSE National Ambulance Service Yellow / Green
Battenburg-fire.svg Fire Brigade Yellow / Red
Battenburg-rail.svg Civil Defence Blue / Orange
Battenburg-blood.svg Coast Guard Orange / Yellow
Battenburg-mountain.svg Mountain Rescue White / Orange

New Zealand[edit]

The New Zealand Police use yellow/blue Battenburg markings on some vehicles.[10] Until October 2008 general duties vehicles were marked in orange and blue, with yellow and blue for highway patrol units; orange and blue was phased out in 2014.[11] Vehicles of New Zealand's St John's Ambulance Service/ Wellington Free Ambulance are marked with green and Yellow Battenburg markings or rows of green and yellow half-chevrons. On 1 July 2017, New Zealand's urban and rural firefighting organisations amalgamated into Fire and Emergency New Zealand, with new a brand including Battenburg markings to be rolled out to the fleet.[12]

Common Battenburg markings
used in New Zealand
Battenburg-police.svg Police Yellow / Blue
Battenburg-ambulance.svg St John Ambulance/Wellington Free Ambulance Yellow / Green
Battenburg-fire.svg Fire and Emergency New Zealand Yellow / Red


Swedish police car (Volvo V90) with Battenburg markings (2017)

Originally Swedish Police vehicles were painted with black roofs and doors or black roofs, bonnet, and boot. This was a necessity due to the heavy snows Sweden experiences. During the 1980s the cars became white with the word "Polis" written on the side in a semi-futuristic typeface. Later the livery became simply blue and white, then in 2005 was changed to a light blue and fluorescent yellow Battenburg livery. Most Swedish police cars are either Volvos or Saabs, with the same livery all over Sweden. A recent Swedish trend is to also use Battenburg markings on road maintenance vehicles. These are then marked with orange/blue, as in the UK rail response type shown above. A study by the Swedish Road Administration showed a significant traffic calming effect when using orange/blue Battenburg marking to improve the visibility of road maintenance vehicles.[13]

Common Battenburg markings
used in Sweden
Battenburg-police.svg Police Yellow / Blue
Battenburg-ambulance.svg Ambulance Yellow / Green
Battenburg-fire.svg Fire Brigade Yellow / Red
Battenburg-rail.svg Road maintenance Blue / Orange


Swiss Grenzwache vehicles

The first Swiss ambulance service with Battenburg markings is the emergency medical services in Zofingen. Since 2008 they have Battenburg markings on a Volkswagen Crafter and a Mercedes Sprinter. They use white/red coloured markings on their ALS units. Another service with similar markings is the Swiss Border Guard, which use lemon on blue markings block markings.

Common Battenburg markings
used in Switzerland
Battenburg-coastguard.svg Swiss Border Guard Yellow / Navy Blue

United Kingdom[edit]

City of London police van with half-Battenburg markings
A typical Highways Agency traffic officer vehicle in black and yellow
A Network Rail van with a narrow strip of orange and blue Battenburg

In the United Kingdom, the majority of the emergency services have adopted the Battenburg style of markings, with nearly half of all police forces adopting the markings within three years of its introduction, and over three quarters using it by 2003.[1]

In 2004, following the widespread adoption and recognition of the Battenburg markings on police vehicles, the Home Office recommended that all police vehicles, not just those on traffic duty, use "half-Battenburg" livery, formalising the practice of a number of forces.

In the United Kingdom each emergency service has been allocated a specified darker colour in addition to yellow, with the police continuing to use blue, ambulances using green, and the fire service their traditional red. Other government agencies such as immigration enforcement have adopted a variation, without using the reflective yellow.[14]

The use of these colours in retro-reflective material is controlled by the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989, with vehicles only legally allowed the use of amber reflective material (and red near the rear of the vehicle),[15][16] A number of civilian organisations have also adopted the pattern, which is not legally protected, and a number of these also use other reflective colours.

An alternative to the use of reflective materials is the use of fluorescent or other non-reflective markings, which may be used by any vehicle.

Common Battenburg markings
used in the United Kingdom
Battenburg-police.svg Police Forces Yellow / Blue
Battenburg-ambulance.svg Ambulance and Doctors Yellow / Green
Battenburg-fire.svg Fire and Rescue Yellow / Red
Battenburg-blood.svg NHS Blood and Transplant, Blood Bikes Yellow / Orange
Battenburg-highways.svg Highways England and DVSA Yellow / Black
Battenburg-rail.svg Rail Response Orange / Blue
Battenburg-mountain.svg Mountain Rescue White / Orange[18]
Battenburg-coastguard.svg HM Coastguard Yellow / Navy Blue
Battenburg-IE.png Immigration Enforcement Sky Blue / Navy Blue[14]
Recovery2.svg Highways England contractors Pink / Black

United States[edit]

Battenburg markings on law enforcement vehicles in the US are rare, however, the Miami Township Police Department in Ohio uses ones similar to those found in the UK on their police cars.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The cake was named after the Battenberg family, in turn named after the town of Battenberg. "Battenburg" with a "u" is a misspelling of the family name, but an acceptable spelling for the markings.
  1. ^ a b c Harrison, Paul (2004). "High-Conspicuity Livery for Police Vehicles" (PDF). Home Office. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 18, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Evaluating new trends in emergency vehicle markings - Advertising agency visibility, Battenburg markings and the Chevron debate, John Killeen. Summary for the Colorado, US EMSAC community of information presented at the October 2010 3rd Annual US EMS Safety Summit
  3. ^ "Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study, FA-323" (PDF). U.S. Department of Homeland Security. August 2009. Retrieved 2015-01-26.
  4. ^ "The difference between Battenburg high-visibility markings and Sillitoe chequers on Police, Fire & Ambulance vehicles". 2012-04-27. Retrieved 2015-01-26.
  5. ^ "Evaluating new trends in emergency vehicle markings" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-01-26.
  6. ^ Emergency Vehicle Markings in Australia
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Ambulances en personeel letterlijk in een nieuw jasje" [Ambulances and personnel get a new look]. De Standaard (in Dutch). 2017-03-28. Retrieved 2017-11-19.
  9. ^ "Rettungswagen Bayern 2017" [Ambulances in Bavaria 2017]. BRK (in German). 2016-12-13. Retrieved 2018-02-09.
  10. ^ "New Zealand police vehicle markings and livery". Driving Tests Resources. 2016-05-30. Retrieved 2016-05-29.
  11. ^ Binning, Elizabeth (11 November 2008). "Arresting image update to save police force $800,000". New Zealand Herald.
  12. ^ "Getting to the heart of who were are – Fire and Emergency's new identity" (PDF). The FENZ Transition Project. 2017-04-27. Retrieved 2017-05-09.
  13. ^ "Improved visibility of road maintenance vehicles using Battenburg markings (report in Swedish)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-22.
  14. ^ a b Photograph of Home Office Immigration Enforcement vehicle
  15. ^ "Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989: Schedule 17".
  16. ^ although the emergency services operate under temporary special orders under section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to use their own colours, with moves underway as of 2008 to formalise this in legislation and extend the use of other colours to civilian operators.Burrows, Adrian (2008-03-07). "Impact Assessment of the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations covering reflective markings on emergency vehicles" (PDF). Department for Transport. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-12-03.
  17. ^ "Emergency Services". Vehicle Livery Solutions. Retrieved 20 November 2016. Illustrations of patterns supplied to emergency services.
  18. ^ a b "Mountain Rescue". Uk Emergency Vehicles. 24 August 2010. Retrieved 21 November 2016. This Web site has illustrations of many UK emergency vehicles, some with Battenburg markings. The page linked illustrates mountain rescue vehicles.
  19. ^

External links[edit]