Can Civilians Use Emergency and Warning Lights in Private Vehicles

Emergency response teams are the backbone of modern civilization. Be it law enforcement, firefighters or the EMT crew, all use special emergency vehicles to quickly reach their destination. These vehicles use a bevvy of flashing lights and sirens to alert bystanders and other motorists of their presence. For example, the standard red and blue lights of police cruisers are quite prominent from a distance. But the question is, can ordinary civilians make use of these emergency lights in their private vehicles? The answer is a bit nuanced. To answer this question, it’s vital to know if it is legal to buy these lights in the first place.

Is buying Emergency Vehicle Lights legal among civilians?

The short answer is yes, it is perfectly legal to buy flashing emergency vehicle lights as a civilian. You can purchase warning lights, dash lights, LED light bars and more. A light supplier’s role is to stock and sell these lights. Hence, they don’t question the legality during purchase. The use of these lights on your vehicle, however, is a completely different topic. 

While you can purchase these lights, mounting them and using them in a private vehicle requires a closer look at the local law. Make sure you are well-versed with these laws before you consider using them on the road to avoid legal consequences. And on that note, we will explore some rules for using these lights in civilian vehicles.

Common Restrictions on Civilian Use of Emergency Vehicle Lights

There are 5 common restrictions which are standard in most states around the country. These are:

  1. Restricted Colours:

The colours blue and red are reserved mainly for police cruisers, EMT vehicles and firefighting trucks and vehicles. Hence, most civilians can’t use these lights on their vehicles. In some parts of the country, the colours green and white are also restricted for civilians as they are used for specific purposes.

  1. Restricted Flash Patterns

In case there are local laws that do permit the use of the above-mentioned colours, there is a restriction on the type of flash patterns. For instance, flashing lights, strobe lights and rotating lights with the colours blue and red are strictly prohibited for private vehicles, as it closely imitates emergency vehicles. 

  1. Restrictions On Brightness:

Since most private vehicles already have headlights and brake lights, these emergency lights can only be equipped as auxiliary lighting in most cases. As a result, there are certain restrictions on the brightness of these lights. For instance, the brightness of these auxiliary lights must not exceed that of the car’s headlights or brake lights, as this can cause confusion among other motorists and can create a major hazard on the road.

  1. Restricted Mounting:

This is a bit more ambiguous, so you might need to enquire further with your local law enforcement officials. Apart from light colours, flash patterns and brightness, the mounting configuration of the lights is also a major concern from a legal standpoint. In some states, front-mounted auxiliary lights are illegal, whereas, in others, it is the rear-mounted ones that will warrant a fine from law enforcement. In other parts of the country, even undercarriage lighting is a grey area legally, so it is best to thoroughly research the vehicle lighting and mounting laws in your area.

  1. Restricted Usage:

Lastly, there might be a clause on the usage of these lights in all states. Essentially, even if you can mount them with your desired brightness and flash patterns, you can’t use emergency lights on public roads. In some states, you are asked to completely cover these lights before driving them on the roads. However, if you are taking your vehicle off the road or are driving on private property, then the above-mentioned restrictions may not apply to you.


By knowing about these common restrictions and legalities, you are hopefully better equipped to purchase and use emergency lights on your vehicles without incurring legal penalties. In any case, it is best to reach out to your local law enforcement before purchasing, mounting, and using these lights on any vehicle.


Why Are Emergency Lights Red?

The reasons for the widespread use of red lights in emergency vehicles are both historical and scientific. Historically, since red is used as a stop sign, it was considered a good choice for emergency vehicles to use them as well as to draw attention to them. Another reason is the colour red itself. Out of all the colours in the visible light spectrum, red has the longest wavelength. Therefore, it is highly visible over long distances. This, combined with sirens, makes it easy for other motorists to spot an approaching emergency vehicle from far away and make way for them.

Who Can Use a Green Light?

Even green and white lights fall under the emergency lights category in some parts of the country. So who can use a green light? In the United States, it is mainly reserved for voluntary firefighters. They are not part of the regular firefighting team but are called to assist them in some cases. The colour green is used to differentiate them from the professional firefighting crew. Thus, the colour denotes that there is an emergency in progress and other vehicles need to clear the way. Of course, it can mean different things in different countries, so it is best to look up the local law on emergency lighting for a clearer picture.

Why Are Strobe/Flashing Lights Used In Emergency Vehicles?

While the bright colours have their own significance, the flashing patterns also serve a major purpose. Short, intense bursts of light make it easier for the viewer to identify the source easily. Furthermore, it was found in a study that emergency vehicles which had flashing light patterns conveyed an immediate emergency to other motorists and bystanders on the road, making them more compliant to stop or make way for the vehicle if required. Another study found that the increased frequency of flashing also corresponded to more urgency. Thus, a combination of flash patterns and bright colours is required for emergency situations.

Author: Brandon Park