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Understanding the Make and Use of Emergency Lights

Monday, April 17, 2017
Mark C
Use Emergency Lights

Operators of emergency vehicles can pick from a variety of light bar options from fixed, rotating, strobe, or LED bulbs. Light bars are available in several different flash patterns and may incorporate takedown lights and various other customizable features.


What are the installation options for emergency lights?

Light bars also vary in size and mounting options: Mini light bars may be available for temporary installation. Visor light bars are LED lights installed on the interior of a vehicle to avoid mounting to the roof of your car. A lot of emergency vehicle lights are permanently mounted to the body a vehicle. These lights, also referred to as “surface mount lights,” are designed for optimal visibility. Surface mount lights are generally preferred on undercover vehicles as they are often unnoticed until illuminated. The most ideal areas for these surface mount lights are on the grille, rear view mirrors, and sides of the emergency car.


Are interior mounted emergency lights as effective as exterior lights?

Interior LED lights are typically installed on the rear deck, visor, or dashboard. Among the drivers who may opt for the interior lighting are undercover police, volunteers, and those who prefer a clear car roof. The chief complaint against interior lighting is visibility as it is difficult to light an emergency vehicle on all sides when using interior light bars. 


Health hazards connected to types of emergency lighting

The most common risks of frequent exposure to emergency lighting include photosensitive epilepsy, glare, and phototaxis.

  • Photosensitive epilepsy: This condition manifests as a type of seizure triggered by bright, flashing lights.
  • Glare: While this condition impacts all drivers, first responders are particularly at risk while driving at high speeds.
  • Phototaxis: This condition is associated with a feeling of being lured towards bright light placing the driver and anyone in the path of the vehicle in danger.


Emergency light usage and colors vary from country to country

It is important to note that not every country designates the exact same assignments for acceptable colors or placement of emergency lighting. Even varying jurisdictions within the U.S. may stipulate different rules for emergency vehicle lighting. The most common colors for emergency lights in the U.S. are red and blue as red is believed to be easier to see during the day and blue is most visible at night. Other typical U.S. color designations are as follows:

  • Red: Indicative of emergency vehicle (ambulance, fire truck, etc.)
  • Yellow or Amber: Associated with construction and maintenance vehicles or tow trucks who move at a slower pace than the main flow of traffic
  • White: An optional color generally for emergency light bars (only permitted on emergency vehicles)
  • Green: Homeland Security contracts the use of green warning lights; some states designate green for volunteer firefighters
  • Purple: Only permitted for use by funeral vehicles in most states
  • Blue: Primarily designated for police, EMTs, and firefighters


Know your lighting requirements

Assess your particular needs and local laws when selecting the appropriate lighting for your emergency vehicle. With the numerous options on the market, one can easily abide by the local jurisdiction to customize an emergency car with the optimal lighting configuration.



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