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Lighting for Police Cars

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During the first three or four decades of the 20th century, police cars carried little equipment other than a siren. Even radios were often a luxury, and officers had to report in from call boxes scattered throughout the city. Modern police cars, however, carry a vast array of equipment, including laptop computers, prisoner restraints and loudspeakers. Typically, though, the most noticeable pieces of equipment on police cars are the lights.

The light fixture that the public most often associates with a police car is the light bar. These are typically affixed to the roof of the car although some smaller models can be placed elsewhere, such as in the rear window. Standard colors are alternating blue and red, but some models incorporate clear or amber globes as well. Light bars are designed to attract the attention of other drivers and pedestrians. The primary goal is to make it safer for the police to proceed at a higher rate of speed or avoid delays at stop signs or red lights, but the light bars can also be used to signal a driver that the officer wants him to pull over or to make a parked police car more noticeable to traffic.

Another valuable light for police cars is the spotlight. These are high-powered lights that the officers can use to illuminate a nighttime scene. Although spotlights can theoretically be mounted anywhere on the car, they care typically placed near the front windows. This enables the officers to direct the light’s beam without having to exit the vehicle. The normal lens color for spotlights is clear, but there are some specialty colors available if the intent is to use the spotlights for other than illumination, such as making a police car more visible.

Police cars can use a variety of strobe lights in different locations, depending on needs and preference. For example, an unmarked car might use a strobe with a red globe for much the same purpose as a marked car uses a light bar. Amber lenses placed near the taillights draws additional attention to the car, which can help enhance safety when the police car is parked while conducting a traffic stop or rendering assistance. Clear or blue lenses can likewise be used to attract attention.

To draw the attention of the public and further identify the car as an emergency vehicle, some departments use lights above the front or rear bumpers or at the corners of the vehicle. Small light bars with flashing red and blue lights are frequently used on unmarked vehicles when they must respond to emergencies. Depending on the department, these may also be used on marked cars to increase safety by attracting additional attention. Amber, blue or clear globes are often placed near the grille or taillights to alert drivers of the police car’s presence.

Interior lighting in a police car can include a number of different items. Dash strobes normally have red lenses and may be mounted on either the front or rear dash to identify the vehicle as a police car responding to an emergency. Lenses in other colors are available for other uses, such as an amber globe to signal caution to other drivers. Visor lights make it easier for officers to illuminate the interior of the vehicle. These are typically LEDs that provide a natural light in varying intensities.