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A Little Bit About Emergency Warning Lights

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Emergency Services Vehicles

A Little Bit About Emergency Warning Lights

Paul Wise
April 1, 2011

Paul Wise

An emergency warning light is utilized by vehicles engaged in time-sensitive tasks such as law enforcement or emergency rescue. Construction vehicles and the like deploy similar lights in order to alert everyone to their presence. This kind of light is not an emergency warning light per se, though many drivers will give them a wide berth and afford them other courtesies of the road, such as is often the case with escort vehicles or those transports bearing oversized loads. These utility lights are often amber or yellow in color, though in the United States local regulations determine the specific characteristics of such signals. For example, in some jurisdictions white lights are used as well, or instead.

A private car's emergency warning light system signals to fellow motorists one's own intent, and is today monitored by computer systems that store "trouble codes" which can be downloaded by scanner tools available at an auto mechanic's shop. These codes give technicians a good indication of where to start looking when trying to determine the fundamental problem(s). For private vehicles, lights are the only means of communication on the road, while those belonging to law enforcement and the like are often equipped with not only lights and sirens but public announcement systems as well. Thus it is all the more important for car owners to make sure that their lights work!

At sea and in the air lights also play very important roles, though nowadays secondary to that occupied by radio and radar. But mention emergency warning lights and most people will automatically think about those on vehicles driven by law enforcement or emergency rescue personnel. Most such designs feature a strobe effect that further commands attention.

In use since the 1960s, the strobe lights are what people think of when they image police cars and fire trucks. Interestingly, this kind of emergency lighting is slowly being replaced by LED technology, just as it had previously replaced halogen lights. LED lights are superior for a number of reasons having to do with luminosity and cost, though one curious complaint against old strobe lights come from none other than police offers who claim that the blue color reserved for use by law enforcement actually hurt their night-vision!

Whatever the underlying technology and no matter the color, it is a certainty that emergency lights will continue to be used as a means of communication on the road, at sea, and in the air. But of course there is a difference between the two so ensuring that it complies with the law is extremely recommended. We don't want anything bad to happen while an emergency is in effect. Unless it is something local, this can be recognized by the law as an imitation which is not good at all and of course they will attempt to apprehend whoever imitates sirens without evidence that it's only emergency lights. Better safe than sorry.

By Paul Wise who often uses emergency warning lights and recommends http://www.qualityemergencylights.com/emergency_warning_light.php for tips and advice.

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