For many police officers, firefighters and other first responders, the use of emergency light bars is a vital part of their safety and regular operations. From informing other drivers of your presence to illuminating the road for safety and several other themes, such light bars provide enormous value — and it’s important for those using them to have a full handle on their functions and capabilities.
At LED Equipped, we’ll happily work with any client to fill all their emergency vehicle LED light bar needs — including those who are centrally focused on light bar functions and capabilities. As you’re evaluating your options in the LED light bar world and making purchases, what are some of the top functionality areas you should be considering? Here’s a general primer.
One of the single most important things to think about with any emergency light bar is the range and variety of flash patterns it offers. Some will have pre-programmed, set patterns while others will offer the ability to customize and save specific pattern profiles for different purposes.
At a minimum, you’ll want an LED light bar that can provide a steady light output (useful for when parked at an accident scene, for example) as well as a range of flashing options. Some of the more common patterns you’ll see are:
- Rotating/sweeping: A beacon-style light output in which the LEDs appear to rotate around or sweep across the light bar.
- Alternating: One row or set of LEDs turns on, then the next, then the next in a pattern.
- Quad: A pair of diagonally opposed light sets alternates with a second pair.
- Simultaneous: All LEDs on the light bar turn on at once and then off at once.
These are just a few examples here — there are many other patterns that are possible depending on your needs.
When considering your flash pattern, here are a couple important things to be considering:
- Contrast with surroundings: You want your light bar to be highly visible when activated, of course, but it’s also important to think about how well it will stand out against its surroundings. If you’ll primarily be using your light bar in urban areas with a lot of street lighting, for example, you might want to consider a light bar that offers more bright, bold colors rather than subdued ones.
- Visibility at long distances: In some cases, you might need your light bar to be visible from very far away — think about a highway patrol officer monitoring traffic from an overpass, for example. In such cases, it’s important to have a light bar with very high intensity LEDs that can cut through any ambient light and increase visibility.
- Visibility for drivers: Finally, it’s worth considering how visible your light bar will be to drivers approaching from different angles. If you’ll primarily be using your light bar on the back of a vehicle, for example, you might want to consider a split-color configuration in which the rear-facing LEDs are a different color than those on the sides or front. This can help increase the contrast and make your light bar more visible to drivers approaching from behind.
Another major area to consider with your emergency LED light bar is the range of color options that are available. Most light bars will offer a few different colors to choose from, and in some cases you might be able to mix and match colors on different sections or rows of LEDs.
The most common colors you’ll see offered are:
- Amber: By far the most popular choice for emergency vehicles, amber is highly visible and works well in a variety of lighting conditions.
- Red: Red is also a very popular choice for emergency vehicles, and like amber is highly visible in a range of lighting conditions.
- Blue: Blue light bars are often used by police and other law enforcement officials, and can be a good choice if you need to maintain a low profile while still being visible.
- White: White light bars are sometimes used in construction and other work vehicles, and can be a good choice if you need high visibility without a lot of color.
- Green: Green light bars are sometimes used in agricultural and off-road vehicles, and can be a good choice if you need high visibility without a lot of color.
- Color combinations: Some light bars will offer the ability to mix and match colors on different sections or rows of LEDs. This can be a good way to increase visibility or create a unique look for your vehicle.
As you’re going about choosing the colors for your light bar, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
- How visible the color is: Obviously, you want your light bar to be as visible as possible, so it’s important to choose colors that will be easy to see under a variety of conditions.
- The purpose of the light bar: In some cases, you might need your light bar to serve a specific purpose — like differentiating your vehicle from others of the same type. If this is the case, it’s important to choose colors that will be appropriate for that purpose.
- Legal requirements: In many situations, such as if you’re a police officer or firefighter, there will be legal requirements for the colors you can use on your light bar. Be sure to check with your local authorities to ensure you’re in compliance.
Traffic Advisor Functions
Another important form of functionality for many emergency personnel or those in construction is the traffic advisor, or “arrow stick.” This is a row of LEDs (usually located on the back of the light bar) that can be activated to point in different directions, typically via a switch on the dash.
The purpose of the traffic advisor is to direct traffic around your vehicle, and they can be especially useful if you’re stopped on the side of the road or need to block off a lane of traffic.
When considering a light bar with a traffic advisor function, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
- The number of LEDs: The more LEDs there are in the traffic advisor, the brighter and more visible it will be.
- The number of directions: Most traffic advisors will have at least two arrows (one pointing left and one pointing right), but some will have four or more.
- The pattern: Some traffic advisors will allow you to choose between different patterns, such as having the LEDs all light up at once or in sequence.
Power Adjustment Settings
Many of today’s LED lights will come with the ability to adjust the power output, typically via a switch on the dash. This can be a useful feature if you need to conserve battery power or don’t need the full brightness of the light bar.
Some LEDs will have two separate settings, one for low power and one for high power. Many modern options, however, actually have several different settings that allow you to fine-tune the power output to exactly what you need.
This can be a useful feature if you find yourself in a situation where you need to use your light bar for an extended period of time and don’t want to run the risk of draining your battery.
Front, Rear or Full Operation?
Finally, the direction in which the light bar faces can be an important consideration. Most light bars will have the ability to operate in either a front-facing or rear-facing configuration, but some will also offer full 360-degree operation.
The direction you choose will typically come down to personal preference or the specific needs of your application. If you’re using the light bar primarily for off-road driving, for example, you might want to choose a rear-facing configuration. This will allow you to see in front of you while also lighting up the area behind your vehicle. On the other hand, if you’re using the light bar primarily for on-road driving, a front-facing configuration will generally be your best bet.
For more on this, or to learn about any of our emergency LED light bars or any other light products, speak to the team at LED Equipped today.