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The History of Emergency Vehicle Lights

Emergency vehicle lighting aren't just there to beautify emergency vehicles, they actually serve a purpose. Emergency vehicle lights refers to one or more visual warning lights that is attached to a vehicle, to send a message of urgency to other road users. It is also used to provide warning of a hazard and a means of signaling another driver to stop for interaction with a law enforcement officer, in the case of law enforcement. In other words, emergency vehicle lights help to announce to other road users, the vehicle's presence.

The sight of flashing emergency vehicle lights is highly recognizable, but it wasn't always like that. Have you ever thought about how emergency vehicle lights came into being? Emergency vehicle lights have evolved over the years, it has a very long history, and its evolution continues till date. Prior to the advent of emergency vehicle lights, vehicles meant for that purpose were just like any other vehicle on the road. They appeared normal, with no significance attached to them.

In the early 1900s, when the police departments first adopted vehicles to patrol their precincts, they had no way of differentiating them from civilian vehicles. Then they decided to use convertible cars for their patrols, so that the civilians would see their police hats, regardless of the weather condition.

In the 1930s, red lights were introduced and included to the roofs of patrol vehicles to signal civilian drivers to pull over and have a little chit chat with the law enforcement officers. It soon became a popular practice and it later evolved into the rotating gumball light in the late 1940s and was later succeeded by horizontal lights in the 60s.

Blue lights were introduced into the emergency vehicle system in the late 1960s and it was said that blue lights were added to the red lights, to avoid confusion, since both aeronautical and nautical vessels have always used red lights to show other vessels the direction in which they are going. Also, blue lights were said to have been added to help those with color blindness distinguish between colors. The two colors combined, served a unique purpose and I believe they still serve their purpose till date. A study published by Florida Highway Patrol in 2004 discovered that blue lights are more visible at night and that red lights are better in the day.

Emergency vehicle lights didn't stop evolving, as three more colors were later included to the mix of emergency vehicle lighting after blue. The colors added were white, yellow, and green, each serving a different purpose. The yellow lights are used by emergency vehicles as a way to warn surrounding drivers, usually in municipal, towing, construction, and other vehicles that may be moving at a slow pace and increasingly on patrol cars as a contrasting color.

Green is mostly used in fire and emergency management, personal vehicles of emergency personnel for volunteer firefighters, and even for homeland and private security. The white lights are used on all kinds of emergency vehicles, but mostly for lighting up the scene of an incident.

From a simple light bar mounted on the emergency vehicle's roof onto which two or more beacons were attached, to the modern models which contain series of components like LED bulbs, spotlights, and halogen lights, etc. Modern emergency vehicle lighting have been designed to meet modern needs, now the light bars can be fitted with alternating lights that flash in left-right or other patterns. Similarly, grille lights can be fitted into the car's grille or even behind it to create a forward-facing flashing effect that is visible in the rear view mirror of traffic in front of a police officer.

Modern emergency vehicles are now equipped with a wide variety of lights, depending on the municipality, the department, and the state. But regardless of each state's rule concerning emergency vehicle lights, it is very obvious that they are very vital for the protection of everyone on the road. Because these lights are one of the first things people see before they even hear the sirens.

Over the years, emergency vehicle lighting technology has been made more sophisticated in many ways for the benefit of everyone. They are now being used in different areas around the world. With them, police officers don't have to bother over differentiating between their vehicles and civilian vehicles. They also won't have to use convertible cars with their hats out for people to see, in the rain, snow or sleet, a practice which was prevalent in the early 1900s as mentioned earlier.

Emergency vehicle lights have made everything convenient for those in the life saving business of emergency operations and as technology continue to improve with time, emergency vehicle lights have equally evolved and improved with it. More lights may be developed and added in the future, who knows. Researchers are already looking at more strobe patterns, colors and placements that works better in alerting other drivers on the road. So, we might be seeing new colors or even more colors in the emergency vehicle lighting system.

Now you are aware of the evolution of emergency vehicle lights, their rise and growth from inception till date, overall purpose, and the specific purpose of the individual colors on many emergency vehicles you see around. Could you imagine a life without emergency vehicle lights?