While you will be aware that emergency vehicles in the UK use two main patterns to distinguish them from private and commercial vehicles, did you know that they are called Battenburg markings and Sillitoe tartan? Battenburg markings, named after the Battenberg cake but spelled differently, are large blocks of colour, one light, preferably day-glo or fluorescent and the other dark in two horizontal rows. The markings were developed in the 1990s by the former Police Scientific Development Branch, and first used on patrol cars which required high visibility in daylight, dusk and under headlights. The Battenburg pattern, often in yellow and blue, makes police vehicles recognisable from a minimum distance of 500 metres (about a third of a mile) and other emergency services have followed suit. The fire service uses alternating yellow and red blocks, while the ambulance service has adopted alternating yellow and green. Some police vehicles also use large blocks of the prescribed colours in single rows or half-Battenburg design.
The other widely recognisable motif is Sillitoe tartan. This is the nickname given to the distinctive black and white chequerboard pattern of small squares, correctly known as dicing, and now used in a combination of colours. It was introduced by Sir Percy Sillitoe, Chief Constable of Glasgow in 1932, in answer to criticism that it was difficult for the public to differentiate between the police and bus conductors and other uniformed officials. Initially three lines of chequered banding was worn around police officers’ hats and then applied to police vehicles and retro-reflective versions on uniforms. Sir Percy’s experiment was a global success as Sillitoe tartan is used by police forces around the world and adopted by the European Union as the universal symbol of the police.