This article was written by a contributing author, and is not meant to be taken as legal advice, nor is it intended to replace the state statutes. Do your due diligence, cross-check the statutes linked, and communicate with your local municipalities, registrar, or commissioner to ensure that you remain compliant and avoid costly fees.
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When operating your own ambulance or EMS agency or even if you are a law enforcement officer, first responder or firefighter, it’s critical to understand the basics of ambulance emergency vehicle lighting, sirens and associate warning equipment. Operating an emergency vehicle and being in charge of a medical transportation company means you must familiarize yourself with all the regulations and laws for your vehicle’s lights and sirens for safety and compliance. Everything from the brightness and angles of an LED light bar to how loud sirens are and the placement of your perimeter lighting matters.
Below, we’ll explain the best ways to understand which LED lights to include on your emergency vehicle and if you need to install a siren or not. There are various subtleties when answering this question, so it’s best to do research beforehand, especially through your state DOT.
Why Are Lights and Sirens Needed on Emergency Vehicles?
Operating an emergency vehicle means you’ll have to follow strict safety laws and regulations on the road. Emergency vehicles are essential in traveling to and from situations where speed counts, and every minute wasted can be critical. Emergency lights and sirens can help law enforcement and emergency personnel reach a victim early on and alert other drivers that they are en route to a call.
As such, it’s law in virtually every state that emergency vehicles must come equipped with emergency lights or at least a single emergency light, an air horn or other type of siren, and appropriate vehicle signage. Using different car warning lights helps alert others to your presence and can help you reach a victim or emergency hospital sooner.
Laws Regulating Ambulance LED Warning Lights
Laws that regulate fire truck lights, lighting, and sirens on emergency vehicles and lights and sirens on law enforcement vehicles will differ by state. For instance, California law requires all authorized emergency vehicles to come equipped with at least one steady burning red warning lamp visible from 1,000 feet to the front of the vehicle. This means you’ll have to make sure your red light headlamp has a red light bulb that is bright enough to warn those around you about your emergency response.
In addition, authorized emergency vehicles may display revolving, flashing, or steady red warning lights on the front, sides, or rear of their emergency vehicles. A red beacon light can be a lifesaver in helping pedestrians and drivers move out of your way safely during a call. As you can tell from the California law, where you place your LED light bar, red LED light bar, or amber LED light bar matters. Our site includes statute summaries for the rest of the US states, but it is highly recommended that you refer to your local DOT to learn the latest laws and requirements.
Best Placement for LED Emergency Vehicle Lights
A warning light bar is usually placed on top of a fire truck or other authorized emergency vehicle, such as a police car. However, you will also notice LED lights placed in other areas of the vehicle. Below are some of the more popular places to put an emergency light to alert bystanders to your presence, grace the attention of other drivers on the road, and help you respond to a distress call as quickly as possible.
One of the best places to put emergency lights is inside the vehicle on the dashboard. These are also known as dash warning lights or a dash light for short.
Dash lights are designed to be sleek, yet still alert others to your police or emergency services with the help of red, blue, and white lights inside your dashboard. A dash light should hold an SAE certification. SAE, formerly known as the society for automotive engineers, provides ratings for commercial vehicles that can let you know the light bar you’re using is of high quality.
Grille Flashing Lights
Grille lights are lights placed on the grille or front of an emergency vehicle or fire truck. However, they are more commonly seen in police cars. Grille flashing LED lights on an ambulance can help motorists see the lights more clearly from their rearview mirror, helping to move them out the way and alert them to an incoming emergency.
Side Ambulance Flashing Lights
It’s not enough to have one red light or LED light bar on the front of an ambulance. It’s essential to outfit an ambulance with red, white, amber, or blue perimeter and hideaway lights. These side ambulance lights can help people see your emergency vehicle from all angles. Side emergency vehicle lights can also help alert other cars of your presence. This is crucial in the case of traffic accidents or medical emergencies on the street.
Imagine you’re a firefighter or EMT responding to a call in the middle of the highway. You’ll want to use the best LED light bar in addition to sidelights so you can stop traffic and remain safe.
When looking at an ambulance or fire truck from the front, you might notice various flashing lights aren’t part of a traditional light bar, dashboard light, or other ambulance lights. These types of ambulance lights are known as light stick bars or light sticks for short. A light stick might have anywhere between 6 to 8 heads or sections of light.
These light sticks can change color and range from red to white, to amber, or blue, and have directional motion. Installing a light stick is easy and a good way to capture more attention and route traffic especially if you work in busier areas such as populated cities.
Rear Ambulance Lights
Ambulance lights can also be placed in the back of the unit. These are most commonly surface mount lights, and they can function as:
- A brake light
- Turn signals
- Reverse light
- Warning light
EMS and Ambulance Emergency Sirens
An emergency siren head is an essential warning component for ambulance operations. Although various laws will vary by state, it is generally illegal to operate a siren without proper lights! It would be virtually impossible to determine where the sound of a siren is coming from without proper lights for drivers on the road.
However, sirens are crucial in alerting people to your presence and preventing accidents and traffic collisions during an emergency response call. Siren speakers are commonly placed at the very front of an ambulance chassis for sound projection.
Does Light Color Matter?
In addition to understanding what types of lights to use, where to place them, and where to place your sirens, you might also understand what types of colors are allowed on an emergency vehicle.
- Amber lights are used in conjunction with other red, blue, and white lights. However, they are most commonly used on security vehicles, not ambulances, and security vehicles that use them must be labeled as such. Amber light bars can also be used on utility vehicles, such as those used in case your ambulance requires repairs.
- Red lights are commonly used on ambulances, and they are one of the only colors that are not only ok to use but required by law to be placed on your emergency vehicle.
- Blue lights are only allowed in some states on ambulances, such as Wyoming. However, in Europe, blue lights are readily seen on ambulances in Italy and the UK, since blue light can be seen better at night and from a distance.
- White lights accompany red lights and can come as a strobe light as well.
Contact your State DOT to learn which colors are allowed. As a courtesy, we can connect you to a local expert who may give you some additional guidelines – contact us here.
Whether you need a floodlight, beacon light, or a performance red light bar, these essential pieces of equipment will alert others of your presence, get you to a scene faster, remain safe while on scene, and ultimately save lives.
Let’s help you find the right speakers, sirens, and emergency lighting for your ambulance – call us at 888-439-1925.