Ask Us: Why is ambulance written in reverse?

The word "Ambulance" is written in reverse because the driver in front of the ambulance can see the words spelt correctly in his rear view mirror. Quickly, this driver blocking the ambulance passageway can quickly identify that the vehicle behind him is an ambulance and react by giving way.

Why is the word ambulance written in reverse?

The word “Ambulance” is written in the reverse order. E comes first, the C, N, A… The reason? Because the driver in front of the ambulance will see the AMBULANCE spelt correctly in his own mirrors.

Perfectly. Not upside down. Not the wrong way around.

Purpose of reverse writing is in quick identification

The true intent of reverse writing is for the driver ahead to quickly recognise and identify that his own vehicle is in front of and is blocking an ambulance.

Reality of reverse writing

What happens in real life with reverse writing?

Time needed: 1 minute.

Scenario: Driving on the highway

  1. You are driving happily

    Listening to the radio, singing along 🎶

  2. In your mirror, you see some glaring lights from a vehicle behind

    Red, blue, white lights. 🚨 “Why are they so bright?”

  3. You try to figure out what is happening

    Squinting your eyes, you try to focus on the shape of the light source ⁉️

  4. ECNALUBMA – Reverse Writing

    Printed on the ambulance bonnet, the reverse writing is shown correctly in all your mirrors


    Road courtesy: Most often drivers in such situations react by giving way – filtering out and merging into a slower moving lane

  6. Benefit to the patient

    Patients gain a few precious seconds. Families get a better chance at seeing their loved ones well again.

Plus – At junctions and intersections, nice drivers like these who give way are very much appreciated. Ambulances at the first in line have the opportunity to beat the red light legally.

How does mirror writing work?

The scientific term is known as lateral inversion. Lateral inversion creates the mirror image we see.

Printed on ambulance front bonnet

Below you can see a photo printed on the front of the ambulance.

Some characteristic features of the printed text:

  1. The words are written mirrored
  2. The words are capitalised
  3. The words have high contrasting colours
  4. The words are centralised on the vehicle

The first letter opposite “E” becomes the last letter “E” in the correct direction; the last letter “A” becomes the first letter “A”.

Mirrorred text in an ambulance

How an ambulance looks like from a side mirror

On an emergency vehicle, the word Ambulance will thus show on the driver’s side mirror correctly.

Side mirror in vehicles help drivers see the ambulance & traffic behind them

The left hand side and right hand side of every vehicle are convex mirrors that allow the vehicle in front of the ambulance to look back at the traffic.

Ambulance seen from the side mirror (driver’s perspective)

Mirrored text is read in the correct order and correct sequence when seen from these left side and right side mirrors.

There is no need to read back-to-front or upside down when seen in the mirror. Instead you can read the mirror writing in the normal way.

Same ambulance seen from the front with reverse writing

The text is capitalised as AMBULANCE and written in the reverse (or opposite order) – ECNALUBMA. The large font is always printed in bold and upper case to increase readability. This is one of the basic features of an ambulance.

Moreover, ECNALUBMA is printed on the front of the vehicle as the bonnet / hood has the largest surface area and can be easily seen from far away. 

More Questions That People Also Ask

Why do we need AMBULANCE to be written in reverse?

Reason 1: Better Crew Safety

For most, the ambulance industry is usually seen as a step up the career ladder. It is a high intensity environment where the young thrive and the older wean away.

And for those who work while on the road, we want to be safe and stay safe while doing our jobs.

Reverse writing is a great visual cue. Better visibility avoids accidents. Less accidents means less chances of injuries. This translates to better safety for ambulance crew who work on the go.

Reason #2: Increased Visibility

Visual cognition is increased and vehicle identification is made easier with mirror writing.

To help people and road users see the mirror image even better, most ambulances print the words with reflective materials.

In fact, 3M brand stickers are usually used because of their great night performance and durability in rain & shine.

When white light shines on the stickers, they give off a “rainbow glow”. This is a great contrast pattern in a sea of white headlights. They are slightly scratch resistant too.

These stickers allows the reverse ambulance word to be seen in the dark. The shiny surfaces help drivers like you and me see better at night.

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Reason #3: Activating The Brain

Mirror inscriptions of the ambulance text helps higher cerebral function. This simply means that the person seeing the mirror writing is actively using the core functions of his / her brain to  further interpret the situation through vision and hearing, as well as reasoning and emotions.

Basically using more of your five human senses. 

Reflective stickers also supplements mirror writing

Reflective coating and reflective striping are also added to the ambulance vehicle and signage over a large surface area. For example, the striped and checkbox patterns.

Contrasting & coloured striped stickers on rear / back end of ambulance
Visibility: Reverse writing is complemented by the chequered pattern

The increased surface of reflectivity also helps greatly with visibility especially at night with the higher proportion of light reflected over a wider view range

At the end of the day when there is more reflective coating applied on the surface of the ambulance emergency vehicle, vehicle visibility is improved and reduces chances of accidents.

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Audio Plus Visual Cues

An active duty ambulance responding in emergencies signals itself using two main ways to other road users and drivers.

1. Audio: Use of siren

Sirens are usually set at least 100 decibels.

This level of volume is equivalent to hearing a plane take off at close distance. This creates awareness of the ambulance vehicle and drivers ahead of it can yield the right of way.

2. Visual: Use of lights

Flashing blue and red lights catch the attention of drivers around and the backward spelt text on the ambulance vehicle confirms that the vehicle is in fact an ambulance.

The lights are only switched on when necessary. In some situations, light are turned off – even midway during the transport to the hospital.

Having the reverse text ECNALUBMA / AMBULANCE in the mirror (above the driver’s head) avoids the need to look backward.

Red lights in the dark

Despite Clear Warnings, Some Drivers Don’t Give Way in Emergencies

At the end of the day, as an ambulance service, I want to get to the destination quick. I want to go fast, but safe. Yet, I have already done all I could to signal to other road users & drivers but they don’t listen.

What can I do..?


We don’t want to cause an accident and make your medical bill bigger!


We turn to education and providing information to change the mindset and ideology of road users. we want people to know how to call an ambulance the RIGHT way.

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This post was last modified on March 17, 2021 5:47 pm