California has specific laws that regulate the use of emergency vehicle lights. It is essential to know and abide by these laws, both for public safety and for uniformity on the roads, so that civilian drivers know what to expect and can act accordingly when encountering vehicles that are utilizing emergency lights. These rules govern a wide variety of vehicles and are clearly detailed in the California Vehicle Code.
Authorized Emergency Vehicles (Police, Fire, Ambulance)
Section 165 of the California Vehicle Code defines an “authorized emergency vehicle” as a vehicle that is used to respond to emergency, fire, or lifesaving calls. This refers to police vehicles, ambulances, and fire trucks, and includes both publicly-owned vehicles as well as privately-owned vehicles that serve these purposes and have been granted a permit by the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.
Every authorized emergency vehicle is required to have one steady burning red lamp that is visible from 1000 feet. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25252. These vehicles may also have a revolving flashing or steady light system on the upper beam headlamps that alternates from one side to the other. These lights may only be used when the emergency vehicle is responding to an immediate call or is engaged in a rescue effort. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25252.5.
Police Car Lights
Peace officers may also have a flashing blue warning light visible on the front, sides, and rear, as well as steady or flashing police lights above the roofline. California Vehicle Code sections 25258 and 25259. Amber flashing warning lights are to be used when peace officers are enforcing an order of the court in a county with a population of more than 250,000. California Vehicle Code section 25254.
Other vehicles may use emergency lights when necessary and appropriate, depending on the type of vehicle and its function.
Tow trucks may display flashing amber warning lights when providing services to disabled vehicles. The warning lights should be easily visible from the rear when towing a disabled vehicle or when moving at a slower speed than normal traffic. Warning lights are not to be used on the freeway unless there is an unusual situation or hazard that warrants it. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25253.
Vehicles that are engaged in a range of construction activities may display flashing amber warning lights visible to the front, sides, and rear, while conducting this work. Construction activities may include but are not limited to work on aqueducts or levees, oil or gas pipelines, buildings or other structures, and sanitation systems. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25260.1, 25260.3, 25260.4, 25265, 25266.
Publicly-owned utility vehicles may use emergency lights when engaged in the repair, maintenance, or inspection of public utilities. Flashing amber warning lights may be used when these vehicles are parked or moving at a slower rate than normal traffic. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25260.
Pilot vehicles are vehicles that have been granted a permit for special purposes by the Department of Transportstion or local authorities. Vehicles that transports logs or oversized loads fall into this category. Pilot vehicles may use flashing amber warning lights on the front, sides, and rear while engaged in the movement specified by the permit. These lights should be covered when the vehicle is not actively performing the function covered by the permit. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25270.
Security vehicles that are privately-owned and operated exclusively on private property may use amber flashing warning lights that can be seen to the front, rear, and sides. These lights may only be used when the vehicle is responding to emergency calls that pose an immediate threat to life or property. These vehicles must be clearly marked on the sides and rear with the words “PRIVATE SECURITY” or “SECURITY PATROL”, and cannot be used while on public highways. A peace officer may order the removal of the warning strobe lights from a private security vehicle for violating this law. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25279.
Knowledge of California’s emergency vehicle light laws is crucial to public safety and can assist drivers of a wide variety of vehicles in performing their duties efficiently and effectively. The guidelines above detail current law at the time of this writing, but statutes do change, so always confirm the regulations to ensure that you are compliant. Review these laws as often as needed as part of your dedication and commitment to providing important, essential services within your community.
For more information about what lights may be available to you, we suggest calling your State Highway Patrol office at: 1-800-835-5247
*Please note that these numbers are what we are currently able to find and the numbers may have changed since this listing.
Disclaimer: The emergency vehicle light state statute guide was created by Extreme Tactical Dynamics as a guide and reference. We make no claim to the accuracy or validity of this guide. This guide was written to the best of our knowledge and has been provided to our customers as a courtesy ONLY! The information in this guide is our interpretation of the law as we have read it. We cannot be held responsible for any errors as this is only our interpretation of the law and the laws are constantly changing. We cannot be held liable or responsible for any errors and recommend that our customers refer to their local authorities to confirm the particular statue that governs their use of emergency vehicle lights.