The Fundamentals of Lighting Standards for an Emergency Vehicle Light

The Fundamentals of Lighting Standards for an Emergency Vehicle Light

Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, construction worker vehicles: every day we pass vehicles on the road that use emergency lighting. In times of emergency, it is of the utmost importance for these lighting systems to work to allow the user to warn other motorists and pedestrians that their vehicle may move quickly or unpredictably. To ensure these systems work to the best of their capabilities, companies should seek to better understand the proper operation and maintenance by looking to the industry standards for each specific Emergency Vehicle Light product.

What Is Considered an Emergency Vehicle Light?
Emergency vehicle lights are any lights used as a visual warning that is attached and/or fitted to a vehicle for use to alert drivers and other road users to one of the following:

• an urgency to the passing vehicle's journey,
• as a stationary hazard warning, or
• to signal the driver to stop.

In many cases, an emergency vehicle light (or lights) is accompanied by some form of a siren to help increase efficacy. Plus in some areas, these additional lights can permit the vehicle user to additional rights. For example, when an ambulance is coming down the road with its emergency lights and siren, you are required to pull to the side of the road and provide them the right of way to allow them to proceed without being impeded.

Who Standardizes and Regulates Emergency Vehicle Lights?
SAE International is the primary trade group that standardizes and establishes the level of product quality for any emergency vehicle light. Although these standards serve as a “best practice guide” for companies to follow, they are not law. Therefore, while recommended, companies do not have to abide by them. However, some states (such as California and Minnesota) do have their own set of product standards for items sold within the state that are enforced by the law.

What Are the Main Emergency Vehicle Lighting Standards?
There are two primary standards from the SAE acknowledged as common practices for emergency vehicle lighting. These are the SAE J845 and the SAE J595. Although there are many more specifications than these two options, these are the most common requirements followed for emergency lighting products.

The SAE J845 standard refers to flashing omnidirectional warning lights and products. It defines the specific degrees of the arcs, both horizontally and vertically, to ensure the observer sees the flashes. The J595 standard is for optical warning lights that use unidirectional flashing. Although the rules and criteria are for two different types of products, both provide the following specifications to follow:

• Minimum allowed brightness and spatial arrangement
• Acceptable frequency and patterns for flashes
• What colors can be used (and what each color signifies)
• Environmental testing standards
• Allowed product materials
• Mandatory lens markings
• Testing Requirements (including lab tests)
• Required performance results

Are All Emergency Lights the Same?
No. In fact, different jurisdictions can have varying laws regarding how to use the lights. For example, in some areas, non-emergency vehicles (like school buses) are allowed to use similar lighting to semi-emergency vehicles (such as tow trucks). Another example would be red lights. This lighting coloration typically alerts you to an emergency vehicle. However, in many states, there are also non-emergency vehicles allowed to use the color red under specific guidelines. As an example of these special-case laws, the state of Iowa allows funeral hearses to display red emergency lights during a procession. Similarly, in Texas, tow trucks are allowed to use red lights, as long as they are stationary.

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