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Are Car Strobe Lights Legal?

Posted by Extreme Tactical Dynamics on Dec 12th 2019

The addition of strobe lights on cars and other vehicles has become increasingly popular. They come with a variety of strobing effects, in a gamut of colors, and with a host of other options. They have also become more affordable and they can be found in both physical and online stores. There's no doubting their popularity, or the fact that strobe lights really do make a vehicle stand out. But, the question is, are they legal, or does their similarity to emergency vehicle strobe lights mean that they are illegal for civilian use? Generally, it is legal for any civilian to buy these lights, and most states allow for their use on private land, but whether you can use them on public highways will depend on a number of factors.

Anybody Can Buy Vehicle Strobe Lights

There are no laws that prohibit the purchase or sale of vehicle strobe lights. This means that anybody can buy them. However, just because you can buy them, does not necessarily mean that you can legally use them, especially on the public highway. But, there are some situations where you can fit these lights and use them, without the fear of running foul of the law.

They Can Be Used On Private Land

It is legal to buy and install these lights when they are to be used on private land. For example, one of the most common uses for this type of light, outside their use as emergency vehicle strobe lights, is on farm machinery.

Tractors are large and potentially dangerous machines, and it is not uncommon to see them sporting yellow warning lights. These lights are used because they highlight the potential danger of the machinery to everybody around them.

Private security firms also use a similar style of light. In these cases, they not only warn of the vehicle's approach, but the lights themselves can deter criminal activity and set peoples' minds at ease.

Construction vehicles are another common type of vehicle to use warning lights, and in some states it is perfectly legal for this type of vehicle to use the lights at the side of the road and even on the road, but this is dictated by local state laws.

So, if you are buying the lights for personal use, and you will only use them on private land, you should find that you are perfectly within your rights to do so.

Use On Roads

However, in most states, this is where the legal use of these lights ends. Their similarity to police lights means that strobe lights are prohibited in most states, although this can depend on the color of light, and even their placement.

If you modify your vehicle to look like an emergency vehicle, you could fall foul of multiple state laws. Impersonating a police officer is an offense, and if it is determined that this was your aim when installing and subsequently using the lights, then you could face serious consequences.

In some states, the use of any vehicle strobe light is prohibited. Some states dictate that you are not permitted to use lights match the color of those used by emergency vehicles. Generally, emergency vehicles use red, blue, and white lights, but this isn't always the case. Green and yellow lights are recognized as being emergency vehicle colors in a lot of states, and although it is very rare to see an emergency vehicle sporting purple strobe lights, this color might still be reserved in some states. The use of these color lights is likely, at the very least, to lead to some serious questions.

Even in states where strobe lights are permitted, then, there will be restrictions over the color that can be used. It is highly likely that there will be laws governing the brightness of the light, too. Lights that are too bright can cause an obvious distraction to road users, especially when they are strobing. This is, after all, why they are used as LED fire lights and police lights.

Emergency Vehicles

Emergency vehicles use a combination of sirens and bright flashing strobe lights to warn other road users of their presence. On seeing emergency vehicle lights, road users are legally required to move over and allow the emergency vehicle to pass safely and quickly. This allows them to respond to emergencies and arrive at the scene sooner.

Buyers should never be tempted to use strobe lights in a bid to impersonate emergency vehicles and beat traffic because this will lead to punishment, and it is difficult for the police to miss your bright red flashing lights.

Commercial Vehicles

Commercial vehicle laws vary by state. Some states allow construction vehicles to use yellow lights as a cautionary warning. In fact, in some cases, this is a legal requirement. Breakdown vehicles, for example, might be required to turn on yellow flashing lights when they are attending a broken down vehicle at the side of the road. It warns other road users of a potential hazard and it can prevent additional accidents from occurring.

Construction vehicles might be permitted to use similar lights. In some states, they are only allowed to use these lights at the side of the road, while in other states, the use of yellow lights on escort vehicles and construction vehicles might be perfectly acceptable.

Use As Courtesy Lights

Some states operate a courtesy light policy, too. Usually, this means that volunteer firefighters and first responders are permitted to have green flashing lights and visor light bars fixed to their car. And they are permitted to use them when answering a call or responding to an emergency. These do not carry the same Move Over Laws as emergency vehicles, but many road users will move over to allow them to pass. However, not all states permit this type of vehicle strobe light use, so caution is once again advised.

Know The Law

An increasing number of people are enjoying the installation of strobe lights on their vehicles. They certainly allow the vehicle owner to stand out. They can legally be used at most car shows, and they can always be used on private land. It is also perfectly legal to buy this type of light, even if their use is prohibited on the public highway.

However, vehicle strobe lights are often prohibited for highway use. In some states, all colors are banned, and there are almost always laws that govern the brightness of the light, as well as the color of light that is displayed. The brightness of light that is permitted does vary by state, but is usually governed by the brightness of other lights on a vehicle. If a strobing car light is brighter than a brake light, this can prevent other road users from being able to see the brake lights, and it can pose a hazard on the road.

If you intend to use strobe lights on the highway, whether as a volunteer responder or simply to give your car a unique look, you should ensure that you know the current legislation and rules for your state, or you could face a hefty fine and other potential action. The general rule is that you should not modify your car to look like an emergency vehicle, and attaching visor light bars is treated in the same way as painting the word police down the side of your car. There are, however, genuine and beneficial uses to strobe lights, so don't be put off installing and using them as long as you have checked that you don't break any state laws.

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