Emergency Warning Lights & Parking Procedures

The 1999 U.S. Fire Administration "white paper" identified the over use of blinding, confusing, and distracting warning lights as a major cause of accidents, injury and death at emergency scenes


In New York State amber lights are not prohibited. Amber filters allow 60-percent of the light from the bulb to pass through, red allows 25-percent. The amber light also sends a very specific message to those who view it: caution - stay away. A driver who is drugged, drunk, elderly or fatigued will usually drive away from the amber light. Amber also travels through fog, rain or snow much farther than red, blue or clear. In California all emergency vehicles may display at least one amber light to the rear. The New York State Police reported 15 to 20 cars were struck while parked on the side of the road annually when only the red lights were displayed. They now have an amber lens on the driver's side rear flashing light position in the bar and report a drastic reduction of cars hit while displaying the amber light. Federal KKK Ambulance specs - to meet federal funding standards - require one amber light on the rear. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) allows amber in all four directions from fire vehicles when in the "parked" or "blocking" mode.

The NYS Motor Vehicle Commissioners rules and regulations, Part 44, allows the use of amber lights by any vehicle involved in a "hazardous operation". If you have a blue or green light and an amber light, you can only use one light at a time for the activity that you are involved in. Part 44 allows 100 candlepower at 35 watts for clear lights.

There is no restriction on vehicles that are allowed to display red or red and white lights; they can use amber along with the red or red and white lights. The NFPA does not allow amber to be displayed from the front in the "response or "moving" mode. Blue light is more visible to the eye at night. Blue does not blend in with the many red lights used at night or on vehicles at night. A bill that just passed over the governors desk allows police to use blue to the rear on their cars.

What is the answer? For parking situations we should limit the use of the warning lights. Warn only from the direction that the traffic is coming towards the scene. You will be amazed how the total scene will calm down when the warning light usage is reduced. Equip the rear of your vehicles with at least one amber light to send that message "caution, stay away". Be careful how you use your headlights, spot lights and other flood lamps as you may be blinding oncoming drivers and other personnel on the scene. Equip you vehicles with "arrow sticks". Both New York State Department of Health & NFPA advise shutting down most of these lights. On controlled access roads no warning lights to the front!

On The Scene, Shut Off Some Lights

Many Fire, EMS & Police are using this limited use procedure at all scenes. The Phoenix, AZ, Fire Department recommends reducing the warning lights, displaying amber and using the hazard flashers to make the scene safer. On the controlled access highways, the vehicle closest to on coming traffic stops several hundred feet prior to the scene, activates the four-way flashers and displays only rear-facing lights.

All other vehicles should shut off all the warning lights and park in a safe position at an angle, if possible. The results have been much more control over the traffic that is moving past the accident or situation. The other lane keeps moving without the gaper's block, they slow to 40 MPH or so and keep on going, even though there are several emergency vehicles at the scene in the other lane. This same procedure can be used on other roadways with minor modification. In the blocking mode they only display amber lights!

At all fire and emergency scenes the same procedure can be used. My fire department and ambulance squad (Rush, NY, Fire/EMS District) has used this procedure for 15 years with excellent results! The reduced lighting policy is used with distracting, confusing and blinding warning lights being shut down. Adequate warning is provided with one red and one amber light along with the hazard flashers. Most of our equipment has an amber arrow sticks built in the rear, which are also used.

NFPA 1901 standard address the warning light problem and has taken it out of the operators hands with automatic shut down of blinding warning lights. NFPA also requires a response and blocking mode of operation, amperage load monitoring system and a restriction on how many amps the lighting system can draw. These requirements were way over due! If you have an older vehicle you can obtain the same results by the switches on the dash, use them to shut down most of the lights when parked at the scene.

Precautions Once You Arrive On Scene

Cones and/or Flares - When using flares and/or cones use the examples that the DOT and road construction crews provide. Place them far enough back to give proper warning and spread them out. Set up your scene as a work zone as soon as possible.