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How to Buy a Lightbar

Written by PFM Staff

A wide variety of LED lightbars and emergency lights exist from a large number of credible manufacturers. So, where do you start? You start with the need, and then the price. LED lights are expensive, and worth it. But that doesn’t mean they have to break the budget.

Check out the various makes of lightbars. You will find fairly simple lightbars with a minimal number of LED modules. You will also find multi-function lightbars that do everything but brew coffee for the officer. As you add LED modules, you add cost. As you add functions like sequential directional arrows, you add cost. As you add take-downs and alleys, you add cost.

The good news is that all of today’s LED lightbars from the major manufacturers are bright enough to meet all state lighting standards, and all of them provide 360-degree coverage. Each manufacturer bends or reflects the LED light in a slightly different way, but all of them start off with basically the same LED light emitter.

So, the first step is to discuss the actual need with your patrol division. For example, if your patrol vehicles have A-pillar spotlights, you may not need take-downs and alleys. Or if you order take-down and alley lights, you may not need A-pillar spotlights. If you order a directional arrow built into the lightbar, you may not need one mounted on the rear deck, and vice versa, so compare costs.

For the vast majority of patrol use, you will want a lightbar that produces a police authority color warning to the front and side, i.e., red, blue, red/blue. That is the easy part; you already know that. The real issue is the warning signal to the rear. You obviously need the same police authority colors to the rear.

However, studies done in the wake of the Ford CVPI high-energy rear collision fatalities a few years ago indicate that you also need to produce an amber signal to the rear. Amber lights can be seen at greater distances in bright sun than red lights farther under pitch black conditions than blue lights.

Amber has one additional safety benefit. Amber is less distracting, less disruptive and less disturbing to motorists approaching the patrol vehicle from the rear than either red or blue. The worst light to produce to the rear for approaching motorists? White.

All this means that fleet managers should buy a LED lightbar with both police authority color modules to the rear and amber color modules to the rear. This won’t be the least expensive lightbar, but it will be the most effective for the money.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2009

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