Your Guide to Amber Vehicle Lighting

Emergency vehicle amber lights have a long history and have evolved quite a bit over the years. Before there were emergency-vehicle lights, police officers and other first responders relied on decals and official-looking hats to help distinguish themselves from ordinary vehicles on the road. In the 1930s, law enforcement started placing red beacons atop their emergency vehicles. By the late 1940s, the emergency lights in those beacons could rotate 360 degrees. 

Today, amber lighting is standard equipment for many public safety and commercial vehicles. A police car is instantly recognizable by its red white and blue flashing lights. Ambulances are hard to miss with their red and white flashing lights, fire trucks are also easy to distinguish with their red flashers, construction vehicles and tow trucks protect their team with amber lights during dark days and nights. 

The Unsung Heroes of Road Safety

Amber lighting serves two main functions on the road:

      1. Awareness: Drivers on the road who see amber lights on vehicles – flashing or otherwise – intuitively know to employ caution. Most of us are taught in the course of our driving training to associate amber lighting tow trucks en route to the scene of an accident and other emergency vehicles to exercise caution and give them priority of the road. In this sense, amber lighting is a crucial signal to other drivers to help make them aware of an emergency vehicle.
      2. Visibility: Amber lighting also makes work vehicles more visible to other drivers, which helps improve the safety of everyone on the road. This extra protection is particularly important for non-emergency construction, utility, and/or maintenance vehicles working in dark areas, or on busy roadways. 

It’s easy to take something as seemingly simple as amber lights for granted. But at the end of the day, they have probably helped prevent more accidents – and in turn save more lives – than we will ever be able to tally.

Laws regarding the use of amber lights vary from state to state, and the only way to know for sure is to look into your jurisdiction’s traffic laws.

That said, the majority of states allow and even encourage the use of amber lights on any vehicles involved in roadside work or assistance. Some examples of the types of vehicles that are permitted, and sometimes even required by state laws, to use amber lights include:

  • Construction vehicles: Pickup trucks, dump trucks, bulldozers, cranes, road rollers, etc.
  • Utility vehicles: Bucket trucks used to fix power lines.  
  • Maintenance vehicles: Snowplow trucks, road gritters and other vehicles performing maintenance on roadways and public infrastructure.  
  • Road side assistant and Auto-repair vehicles: Tow-trucks, AAA vehicles, etc.
  • Security vehicles: Any automobile manned by a security guard on duty. 
  • Tractor-trailer: Most states have laws regarding the placement of light markers on trailers. 
  • Pilot vehicles: Pickup trucks and other automobiles escorting heavy loads.
  • School buses: Flashing amber lights are used by school busses to indicate that they are slowing down to make a stop. 

It’s worth noting that, even in states where amber safety lighting is not explicitly required for construction or maintenance, companies that use them in their fleets may improve their chances of winning city contracts by demonstrating that they take traffic safety seriously. 

Different Types of Amber Lights

Amber lights come in many different designs that enable placement on vehicles of any size. Some of the most common fixtures include the following: 

  • Beacons: A single round light usually placed on top of a car; typically comes with multiple flashing and strobing patterns. They’re most commonly used on construction trucks, security and pilot vehicles.  
  • Light bars: Commonly used on police cars, these elongated bars rest on the top of the vehicle and usually have adjustable flashing patterns. Light bars come in multiple sizes and can be used in different parts of the vehicle. For instance, dashboard light bars are narrow with bulbs facing out toward the street. Light bars are also used on commercial vehicles who seek to increase visibility more than a single beacon or the smaller marker lights might provide. 
  • Marker lights: Also known as clearance lights, these small, single-bulb lights are evenly spaced across the top of a vehicle, or on the sides of a truck. They’re especially common on trailers, as they indicate the full size of the load being pulled.

As for the actual bulbs, LED lights make the most sense since they shine brighter, last longer, are less straining on the eyes and use less energy. 

Light Placements

These caution lights can be placed in areas other than vehicle rooftops. To help ensure civilians see these vehicles from many angles, other types of emergency lights include:

  • Interior light bars
  • Visor lights
  • Dash lights
  • LED grille lights
  • Surface mount lights
  • Hideaway LEDs and strobe kits
  • Bumper lights
  • LED strobe lights

Reliability is Key

Since these lights are relied upon for safety, it is imperative they do not fail. When it comes to traffic safety, quality is crucial. Not all amber lights are created equal. You’re better off buying them from a reputable vendor that specializes in vehicular lighting than getting them from Amazon or eBay. The last thing you want is for your lights to stop working at a critical moment, thereby risking the safety of your staff, damage to your vehicle, and potentially violating local regulations.  

At Day Wireless, our experts point can you in the right direction. We have upfitting shops in 6 states across the West Coast. Get in touch with our upfit team today to learn more about the amber light requirements in your jurisdiction, or get an estimate to add amber lighting for your vehicles.

Learn about our other upfitting services.

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