Can Civilians Use Police Flashing Lights?

Posted by Extreme Tactical Dynamics on Jun 29th 2019

You would think that the laws regarding civilian use of police flashing lights would be simple to understand. After all, these are emergency lights and should only be used in accordance with the situation and the authority of whoever is driving the car, right? Well, not quite.

The truth is a little murkier. In this guide, we’re going to attempt to define whether or not it is legal for any civilian to drive a car and use the same sort of flashing lights used by the police. Let’s take a closer look.

Possible Civilian Uses of Flashing Lights

Flashing Police LightsFirst of all, when you think of a warning light bar or police lights, what color comes to mind? Well, your answer is going to depend on the state that you live in. While some states use red flashing lights on law enforcement vehicles, other states might use blue - and others still might use a combination. And even then, some states use white and amber lights - although the amber color is usually restricted to light up to the rear of the vehicle only. So, in one state you might be able to use a blue flashing light, but in another - it might get you in serious hot water.

Private companies

Of course, some states have privately operated special police forces. And as the drivers of these vehicles are technically civilian - and given the fact that they are often allowed to use the same colors as the regular police forces - it can cause a little confusion. You will find these types of private police forces in all kinds of places. Some operate on railroads, others work on university campuses. Animal control and conservation officers also working for private companies - as well as Federal and State park rangers - can also use the same vehicle strobe lights as their local police force.

First responders

Another difficulty lies within the field of first responders. Take volunteer firefighters, physicians or volunteer EMS as the perfect example. Many of these ‘civilians’ have to drive emergency vehicles as part of their jobs, but not all of them are 100 percent sure that they are actually allowed to use their lights. And again, the law can be different in every state.

Private buyers

As a rule, anyone can buy emergency police lights - it’s a perfectly legal activity. But can private buyers use them on their personal vehicles? The answer - once again - lies in your particular state’s current laws and statutes. Every state in the country has its own policies on emergency lighting, so it’s incredibly difficult - if not impossible - to give a clear-cut answer. The truth is it is down to the individual to find out whether or not they can install police flashing lights on their private vehicles - and, indeed, whereabouts on their vehicle they can put them. So, before you place an order with us - or any other police flashing light seller - please do your homework on your state’s statute first.

Private use

However, what if you are taking your vehicle off-road, or are planning to use your police flashing lights on private land? Maybe you want to use a yellow light bar on your security vehicle. There are plenty of reasons for doing so. For example, private security companies can use these types of flashing lights while patrolling private land - a commercial building site, for example, utilizing their caution light bar. Similarly, farmers are often fitting police flashing lights on their tractors and ATVs, using them as warning lights. As long as they restrict the use of their lights to when they are on private land, they are not likely to get into trouble. In almost every state, the laws do not include use of emergency lights - including police flashing lights - on private land.

General rules When it comes to Police Flashing Lights

So, if you are interested in buying police flashing lights, will you be able to use them? And if so, where can you use them? In virtually every state, flashing colored lights on the front of your vehicle are completely illegal - including the sort of lights made famous by the KITT car in Knight Rider. These lights can include visor strobe lights or a strobe light bar. And the reason why is simple - it’s because you are, in essence, ‘impersonating’ a police officer - or their car, to be more exact. It all depends on the circumstances, however. As we discussed earlier if you are driving on private land you are free to dress up your car as you like it.

An example: Florida

Map of USA with FloridaLet’s take Florida’s laws and regulations on the use of police lights as an example. First of all, the state’s laws have defined control of the use of colored lights on all vehicles on public roads. You can only use red or blue lights that are visible from the front of your car if you drive a designated vehicle, for example. In Florida, police vehicles - along with the local fire department, ambulance, and the departments of Environmental Protection, Transportation, Agriculture and Consumer Services are allowed to use red flashing lights. And, to make it clear - red lights can only be used in the event of an emergency. In any other case, police cars are only allowed to use blue lights (such as a blue light bar) - and Florida’s laws make it very clear that use of blue lighting - on any non-designated vehicle - is prohibited. Want to know why these laws are in place? Well, the Florida rules have been made to ensure that police cars are instantly recognizable - and if you are in a private vehicle with similar flashing lights, you could end up being charged. Of course, if you are on private land, you are free to drive a vehicle with lights installed, the same color as the police flashing lights. But - you must ensure you remove the lights once you decide to drive on public roads.

As you can see, the law can be complicated when it comes to driving while using police flashing lights - up to a point. It all depends on your state’s regulations, so it’s vital that you understand the local laws before buying a new set of lights. If you are caught using colored lights in the wrong way, you could end up with a serious fine - or worse.

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