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Why is AMBULANCE sometimes mirror written on emergency vehicles ?

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Well, not exactly. The letters are mirrored so that people looking in the back mirror can read AMBULANCE. – Candide Feb 18 '14 at 7:45
Downvoting this because we expect you do at least have done some research into your problem before asking it here, and you clearly haven't. The internet is littered with this same question, yet another post about it on the web is unnecessary. – JonW Feb 18 '14 at 8:52
Also downvoting. Beginning to type the question in Google, it already suggests the appropriate query: – jgthms Feb 18 '14 at 8:55
@Brendon What could possibly be written on the outside of a space suite that's meant to be read by the astronaut occupying the suit? :) And if it's meant for your typical engilsh-reading alien (like "if found, return to NASA, Earth"), then it should be written properly. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Feb 18 '14 at 14:23
@VitalyMijiritsky This photograph is an example:‌​_in_white_space_suit.jpg. All of the labels and digits on the dials are written in reverse. The astronaut uses a mirror on their wrist to see read the labels. – Brendon Feb 18 '14 at 15:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 23 down vote accepted

To make AMBULANCE easier read for vehicles in front of the ambulance. Ambulance are typically in greater speed than surrounding vehicles which make the ambulance front visible in other cars rear view mirror. At least those cars that need to get away to give room for the ambulance passing through traffic.

The most common modern usage of mirror writing can be found on the front of ambulances, where the word "AMBULANCE" is often written in very large mirrored text, so that drivers see the word the right way around in their rear-view mirror.

Reference: Mirror writing

Ambulance view in mirror of car

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...and we have a candidate for the Reversal-badge ;-) – Jørn E. Angeltveit Feb 18 '14 at 9:57
@JørnE.Angeltveit In more than one way. :-) – Justin Feb 23 '14 at 19:18
Surely it's an emergency vehicle whether it has ambulance, fire or police written on it. As a driver you know that you are supposed to let it though ! – PhillipW Oct 24 at 17:35

Nowadays, it's done more out of tradition and convention than for functional reasons

While the original purpose of the reversed 'AMBULANCE' was better readability, advances in lighting, safety design, and understanding of visual cognition have rendered this lettering of secondary importance.

Some issues with the reverse AMBULANCE signage:

  • The word is long and difficult to read in rear-view mirrors.
  • It presents problems for multicultural/multilingual cities/towns.
  • There are far more effective ways to visually communicate an emergency vehicle.
  • When ambulances need to be noticed, flashing lights, sound, and sign coloring are more effective than lettering.

Here are some more updated practices on ambulance lettering:

  • FEMA studied Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity here and concluded that flourescent materials, vehicle outline, colors, lighting, and emblems are the most impactful factors in vehicle visibility.
  • The 2014 FEMA Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative has a section on Visibility and Conspicuity which focuses on striping, lighting, and color rather than lettering/fonts as primary mechanisms for vehicle visibility.
  • The National Fire Protection Association published a Standard for Automotive Ambulances which specifies reflective striping, flashing lights and placement rather than lettering for visibility.
  • The Federal Specification for Star-of-life Ambulances has very specific requirements for lighting, placement, and reflective materials but is open on lettering and emblems.

There is a good argument that the front of an ambulance would be much more communicative if used with an emblem or (as in this Australian study on ambulance visual safety) a simple reflective band.

For example, the following symbols are all far easier to read at a glance and understandable in multi-cultural cities than the word AMBULANCE. They are also mirror-friendly, in the sense that they are symmetrical enough so that the meaning is clear whether you're looking straight on or through a mirror:

enter image description here

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