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Light Bar Basics

Todd K., AWDirect Technical Product Support

Trying to call attention to yourself and your recovery – in traffic filled with cars designed to filter out noise and reduce road glare – can be a very daunting and dangerous task. You would think a lightbar on the roof and some flashing beacons would be sufficient to capture the attention of any driver, on any freeway, in the U.S. But I have memories that suggest otherwise…I recall a fully loaded tractor-trailer sliding past two flashing patrol cars, my casualty in the ditch and my flashing rollback while I stood nearby, all due to the driver not paying attention to the road. This was the first time I thought, “How do people not see this pack of flashing vehicles?” Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time. With cell phones, laptops, GPS screens and a multitude of other distractions in today’s vehicles, it is a wonder more people in the recovery and emergency response industry are not hurt or killed.

There are many choices when it comes to emergency lighting these days, but one rule holds true for me: purchase lights that are CLASS ONE RATED! Class One lights are the minimum primary warning devices for use on authorized emergency vehicles (i.e. fire trucks, police cars, etc.) that respond to emergency situations. Still, CLASS TWO rated lighting is all that’s required for an unauthorized maintenance or service vehicles (i.e. tow trucks). However, my experiences have shown me that Class Two may not always be enough in today’s world.

There are just as many choices of light styles and foundations as there are locations to put them. LED lights are the newest technology and are the most durable, waterproof and least power-consuming lighting today. Technology has made the newest LED modules super bright and they can be seen at distances previously unheard of. The only pitfall of the LED is that the initial purchase costs more than the older technology of strobes and rotators. However, you’ll eventually see cost savings by not having to replace pricey strobe tubes and power supplies. Plus, the playing field is becoming more level as new manufacturing processes have helped to drastically reduce prices of LEDs over the past few years.

Strobe tube-based lighting products are a staple of the emergency response industry. Strobe tubes are intensely bright and have fully directional output without the use of cut mirrors. Strobe-based lighting is mid-priced, with the drawback of having strobe tubes and power supplies that are prone to expire within a couple of years, depending on usage. These are fairly pricey to replace and create a lot of heat.

Finally, there is the Rotator. This light foundation has been used by everyone from Andy Griffith on his Mayberry squad car to some 50-ton rotators. These lights have been around as long as emergency service itself and have long been an affordable staple of the industry.

In my experience, LED lighting is the winner for safety, longevity and looks. But whatever lighting you have on your truck, you need to make sure you and your crew are visible. Visibility is one of the most important factors for safety on the roadside. If drivers see you from a distance, they have a much better chance of making the decision to “slow down and move over.”

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