What Types of Vehicles Need Flashing Warning Lights?

FlashingWarningLight

Whether or not you’ve operated flashing warning lights, there’s a good chance you’ve seen them in action in real life and on the movie screen.

The most notable occurrences of flashing warning lights, also called LED emergency lights, are on emergency vehicles, such as police cruisers, fire trucks, and other first responders.

Though these are the instances that usually come to mind, flashing warning lights can be used for a wide variety of applications. For example, you’ll often see street sweepers operate flashing warning lights to keep other vehicles and pedestrians safe.

But it’s not always so obvious which types of vehicles need emergency lights and whether or not you need a permit to operate them.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know. We’ll cover how flashing warning lights work, the different ways they can be made, what type of vehicles need flashing warning lights, and the best options for each vehicle.

What Are Flashing Warning Lights?

Though you’ve likely seen examples of flashing warning lights, it will be helpful to cover exactly what they are and the different forms they can come in.

With this knowledge, you’ll be better armed to make the right decision when it comes to purchasing emergency lights for your vehicle.

Put simply, a flashing warning light is a visual warning light designed to produce a flashing effect through one or more designs. They’re generally intended to alert drivers to urgency (ambulance and fire trucks) or danger, to warn of a hazard on the road, or to signal a driver to pull over for an interaction with law enforcement.

They can work in a variety of ways, from spinning mirrors to modular components. They can come as a full light bar on the roof or a flashing warning light on dashboard. Continue reading to learn more.

They Types of Flashing Warning Lights

There are a few different types of flashing warning lights, both in form and function. You’ll need to consider what you’ll be using the light for, before deciding which type of light is best.

For example, for certain jobs, a single small rotating light will be enough. For others, a full-size light bar with supplemental dash and grille lighting may be necessary.

Steady Burning

Though not a flashing light, steady burning lamps are worth discussing because they’re often used alongside flashing warning lights.

One form of a steady burning light is a flood light. This can be a light mounted to a vehicle that puts off a bright, white light intended to give workers or first responders visibility in the dark.

A steady burning light can also be a colored light designed to warn others of the emergency vehicles presence. This is generally when a steady burning light is used alongside a flashing warning light.

For example, a California law states, “Every authorized emergency vehicle shall be equipped with at least one steady burning red warning lamp visible from at least 1,000 feet to the front of the vehicle. In addition, authorized emergency vehicles may display revolving, flashing, or steady red warning lights to the front, sides or rear of the vehicles.”

This is just an example of steady burning lights being used alongside flashing ones. Of course, check your local regulations before making any decisions.

Rotating Light

A rotating or revolving light can often be seen in old detective or police movies, especially when the undercover pulls out a single flashing light and puts it on the roof.

Rotating lights are often designed with a single bulb and a curved mirror. In this case, the curved mirror will spin around the bulb creating a flashing effect from the reflected light.

Other designs may contain multiple-bulb assemblies that rotate. Generally, this is for larger flashing lights.

The rotating light design is quickly being replaced by LED lights that simulate the flashing effect. LED lights are more efficient and durable than the older rotating light design.

Strobe Lights

Strobe lights are often used by emergency personnel, such as fire and police first responders.

Traditionally, strobe lights are bulbs powered by xenon gas and an electrical charge. When the charge is run through the xenon gas, the gas ionizes causing a short, intense flash.

More recently, emergency personnel has switched to using LED powered strobes, because of their durability and efficiency. Though technically not a strobe, these LED lights mimic strobes, but with the added benefits already stated.

LED Flashing Warning Lights

LED lights are becoming increasingly popular, from LED powered headlights to LED dash lights. There are good reasons LED lights are becoming so popular.

They’re extremely flexible in their uses and designs, they’re extremely efficient, and they last a really long time, even under hard use.

Plus, first responders love them because they can be seen for long distances, even in the sunlight.

LED flashing warning lights can come as light bars, single beacons, revolving lights, and more.  

Because LED lights can be programmed, a single design can give a variety of light patterns and uses.

For example, a tow truck may be using an LED light bar as a source of steady stream light, but when it’s ready to drive and get into the flow of traffic, it may put a pattern of quick flashing to warn other drivers.

The flexibility and utility of LED lights give drivers a wide range of applications.

What Types of Vehicles Need Flashing Warning Lights

Though certain types of vehicles generally need flashing warning lights, it’s important to check your state and local regulations before making any decisions. This is because these regulations can restrict everything from the types of lights you can use to what colors are used for which purposes.

We’ll discuss some of the most common vehicles that use flashing lights below. Plus, you’ll learn how you can do some research on the specifics of your local laws.

Permit-Exempt Vehicles

In many cases, you need a permit to operate flashing warning lights. However, this isn’t always true.

For example, any vehicle owned or leased by the federal, state, or local government can operate flashing warning lights without a permit. Of course, the state and local laws will determine the type and color of lights required.

Other exempt vehicles include wreckers with wrecker plates and escort vehicles with out-of-state registration and DOT permits. Again, check your local laws.

Tow Trucks

When it comes to using flashing warning lights for non-emergency purposes, tow trucks are one of the more commonly seen examples. In fact, chances are you’ve seen a tow truck all lit up.  

For example, tow trucks will often use a flashing amber light to alert drivers of their presence when they’re stopped on the side of the road.

For this, a full-size LED light bar is the best option to get the job done. A good LED light bar will have at least a few different light patterns that can be easily switched between depending on the task.

Tow truck drivers also may want a steady light. A white or amber steady light will light up the area for the driver to see to see and will act as an additional warning for drivers.

The good thing about an LED light bar is that a steady beam pattern can be programmed, meaning the light bar can act both as a flashing and a steady stream light.

Tow trucks also may use dash and deck lighting or grill mounted lights, depending on their needs.

Construction Vehicles

Another common sighting of flashing lights is on construction vehicles. Construction vehicles are similar to tow trucks in that they use flashing lights to warn drivers, keep workers safe, and light up the area.

Most commonly, flashing lights will be used when construction is happening on a public road or a public space. However, many construction sites will require flashing lights on machinery, such as tractors and trailers, and utility vehicles.

For construction vehicles, LED light bars will provide the most efficiency, flexibility, and durability. Full-size light bars can be used on large trucks and machinery, and smaller light bars can be used on auxiliary vehicles if necessary.

Similar to tow trucks, other options for construction drivers include visor lights, dash lights, and grille-mounted lights.

Farm Equipment

Surprisingly, farmers use a lot of flashing warning lights. This is because farming is often a huge operation.

Flashing warning lights are used on large pieces of machinery, such as harvesting machines, and on auxiliary vehicles.

Depending on the usage, farm equipment can use anything from LED light bars to amber strobes.

In addition to flashing lights, it’s also important to equip your farm equipment with interior and exterior lighting.

Private Security Firms

In many cases, private security companies will use a flashing light to alert potential criminals of their presence. You may have seen a private security patrol with a full light bar similar to the police or perhaps you’ve seen a small auxiliary vehicle with a mini light bar or simple revolving light.

Usually, security firms will use amber lights or a combination of amber and white lights. Check your local regulations to see what colors are allowed.

Volunteer Fire, EMS, and Search & Rescue

In most cases, it will be mandated by law that any volunteer first responder uses a flashing warning light on their vehicle.

The specifics of what’s required will vary from a single rotating light on the roof to a full light bar as you’ll see on police cruisers.

In some places, you’ll be required to use sirens or air horns, while others may prohibit them. You’ll also have to check your local regulation to find out which colors you’re allowed to use. Some states may allow you to use red, while others may require blue or green.

Utility Vehicles

If you’ve ever seen a large vehicle with a sign reading: “Oversized Load”, then you probably know those vehicles come equipped with flashing lights.

Often, they only require a handful or single rotating light to get the job done, but it depends on the specific task the utility vehicle is designed for.

In other cases, slow vehicles, such as a tractor driving down the road, may require flashing lights to alert other drivers.

Funeral Vehicles, Coroners, and Medical Officers

In some states, purple will be used for funeral vehicles, coroners, or medical officers. These lights are especially important when a car is being used as a lead or trail car in a funeral procession.

Sometimes for these vehicles, a single rotating light is all that’s required. In other cases, mini light bars may be used.

Another option is purple hideaway lights or strobe lights on the dash or grill. This can look more professional and stylish and is an effective way to warn others of the slow procession.

Flashing Warning Lights: Laws & Regulations

Before deciding which flashing warning lights to get for your vehicle, you should do some research on the specific laws and regulations in your state and municipality. The website for your Department of Motor Vehicles is a good place to start.

In some instances, you may want to contact your local police department to set up a meeting with a traffic officer. They’ll be the most knowledgeable and will be able to tell you exactly what’s required of you and the limitations of what you can do.

For example, some security officers may be able to pull over cars and issue tickets (on school campuses for example), while in other cases, it may be prohibited.

If you’re using your flashing warning lights for private uses, such as farm equipment, you can check safety guidelines to see which types of lights and colors are generally approved to be safe.

LED Equipped High-Quality Flashing Warning Lights

LED Equipped has a variety of flashing warning lights to suit any vehicles needs. From mini to full-size light bars, rotating lights, and more, LED Equipped is your one-stop shop for all your flashing warning light needs.


Plus, LED Equipped offers a range of steady beam lights to supplement your flashing warning lights.

Check out our selection of high-quality and durable lights to keep you and others safe.

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