Using emergency vehicle lights on a police vehicle or authorized emergency vehicle can safely reduce the response time to get to an injured person or the scene of a crime. As such, strobe lights, flashing lights, red lights, blue lights, and other types of emergency vehicle lights are required by law in most US states.
However, although there are laws that protect and enforce the use of police lights and warning lights, there are also lights that prohibit the use of these lights for certain private citizens in certain areas. It’s vital to familiarize yourself with the laws regarding the use of LED warning lights on private vehicles. This can help you avoid significant fines and other charges.
Do I Need a License To Buy a Warning Light?
The short answer to that question is no. You do not need a license to purchase police lights for your vehicle or other types of warning vehicle lights. These products can be found online through a variety of merchants. They can also easily be wired into your car and can be hooked up to your motor vehicle with simple instructions. A quick search online can show you just how easy it is to hook up a light bar or strobe light to your motor vehicle. Some of these warning LED lights are even battery-powered, so you don’t have to wire anything to your car. All you have to do is simply use a suction cup or other attachment to place it on your personal vehicle.
Warning: Although there is no legal requirement to purchase these products, purchasing does not mean you are authorized to place them or activate them on your vehicle and be free of liability.
Who Can Use Warning Lights?
Generally, state laws only allow an authorized emergency vehicle to use warning lights. An emergency call has its unique definition, and emergency vehicles must have a license to operate. For instance, in California, any
- Publicly owned and operated ambulance
- Lifeguard, or lifesaving equipment, such as offroad vehicles used en route to deliver life-saving services
- Privately owned or operated ambulances (such as those used to aid the local fire department or to initiate interfacility transports)
Must all be licensed by the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol to operate in response to emergency calls.
This means that, as a civilian, you won’t be allowed to use a red light, amber light, blue light, or any other type of emergency light or police light without first being licensed by your state to do so.
When Emergency Lights Can be Used
Although fire department vehicles, law enforcement personnel, and ambulances en route to an emergency call can use warning lights, this doesn’t mean they are authorized to use them at their convenience. There are laws in place to ensure compliance and safety. State laws define what situation allows emergency personnel to use emergency lights.
For instance, in North Carolina, emergency strobe lights and other emergency vehicle lighting can only be used if:
- A law enforcement motor vehicle is on its way to an emergency or is currently working to chase or apprehend any criminals or people suspected of committing a crime. Think of these as high-speed chases or when officers need assistance during on-foot pursuits.
- A fire, rescue, first responder, or emergency response vehicle en route to an emergency call, such as a medical emergency, active fire, or other situation where emergency vehicle lights are warranted.
- When any vehicle or vehicle’s load exceeds a width of 102 inches, including oversize loads per other North Carolina laws. During this case, a motor vehicle could be a tow truck using amber lights.
- When the use of flashing or strobing lights is required by the Department of Transportation. Although this is the law for North Carolina, check with your local Department of Transportation for further information.
- When the vehicle must travel 15 miles per hour or more below the posted speed limit for safety reasons or is otherwise impeding traffic, which could cause a danger to the public. According to this state law, vehicles that can use amber lights while performing the vehicle’s intended service include garbage disposal vehicles, utility vehicles, school buses, farm equipment, mail delivery vehicles, or any vehicle being used in a work zone.
- During a state of emergency declared by the Governor.
Contact your state DOT to learn about your local emergency vehicle lighting and siren laws and statutes.
Laws for Volunteer Personnel
Although volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel are essential for the safety of their communities, they are not automatically authorized (in most cases) to use emergency warning lights or identification lights on their personal vehicle – without express permission and authorization. Although LED warning lights and strobe lights can be easily outfitted with the use of simple wiring or battery-powered units, it is considered illegal in most states to use LED warning lights without proper authority. Be sure to obtain the right authorization before even considering installation.
When You Can Use Lights As a Civilian
When specifically permitted, civilians, such as volunteer firefighters, physicians, and volunteer firefighters can use warning lights on their vehicles. This strictly depends on your state laws, so make sure to check with your DOT and local Sheriff’s office etc. These lights should only be used en route to an emergency call and can be placed on a private vehicle with the required permit. Colors and patterns vary by state and emergency vehicle function.
As a civilian, do not install or use emergency lights or sirens on your vehicle unless granted express permission by the right authority.
Other Situations on Private Property
The use of warning lights and strobe lights is possibly allowed, in most states, on someone’s private property. If you’re a farmer who wants to install emergency lights on your tractor, farming equipment, or even ATVs, you can do so so long as you remain on your property and don’t venture into a public road.
Again, check with your local laws for any other information on the use of warning lights on private property.
Different Colored Lights to Use
In general, your local laws will mandate which colored lights are allowed and which you should leave for professional firefighters and law enforcement personnel. However, below is a general overview of different light colors and what they mean. Again – these can be different state to state.
- Red light- Red lighting is associated with emergencies, and as such is the go-to for fire department vehicles and emergency personnel.
- Blue light- Blue lights are typically only reserved for law enforcement personnel. However, they can be combined with red lights on some ambulances and in some states.
- Amber light- This is a popular light choice allowed by law on utility or slow-moving vehicles.
- White light- White Strobe lights are used in combination with red warning lights on law enforcement and emergency vehicles.
- Green lights – used by the Department of Homeland security and DOT etc.
- Purple lights- Purple lights are reserved for funeral processions, and they can be used to direct traffic and alert the public.
Why Can’t Civilians Use Warning Lights?
Without emergency lights used by police, and other agencies, it becomes almost impossible for people to know there is an emergency or traffic stop taking place. In addition, fire trucks use strobe lights as identification lights to let others know to get out of their way as they approach. Warning lights play a vital role in saving lives – as such, it’s best to leave emergency warning light usage to the professionals.