Understanding Emergency Vehicle Conspicuity and Visibility

If an emergency vehicle cannot be seen and heard, chances are, more than one emergency will exist. This is because one driver or another is bound to have an accident when they don’t notice it rushing down (or partially pulled to the side of) the street. Lights and sirens go a long way toward establishing conspicuity and visibility for an emergency vehicle. But is that enough? Can more be done to increase emergency vehicle distinguishability?

How To Increase Awareness Of An Emergency Vehicle

A study was done recently to see how the conspicuity and visibility of emergency vehicles could be increased. Vehicles in question were as follows:

  • Law enforcement patrol vehicles
  • EMS vehicles
  • Firetrucks, etc.

Special attention was paid to a number of items including the following:

  • Fire apparatus
  • Built-in passive light
  • High visibility paint
  • Chevrons and reflective striping

Though many civilians and emergency workers alike think that conspicuity and visibility are most important during nighttime hours, nothing could be further from the truth. At night, flashing lights stand out far more than during brightly lit daytime hours.

What Seems to Be the Problem?

Emergency vehicles and their flashing lights are more noticeable at night because of the severe contrast between the brightly flashing lights and the darkness. But in a completely lit up area (as in during daytime hours) those flashing lights tend to be harder to see. Add to that the distracted status of most of today’s drivers – thanks to entertainment systems, GPS, cell phones, etc. – and the importance of and need for bright lights, sirens, and bright colors becomes even more important.

Sad Statistics

When it comes to the death of a firefighter, one would naturally assume that most of them perish in burning buildings. Unfortunately, out of 114 firefighters killed on duty, 29 of them were killed in vehicle crashes in one single year.

In the last 10 years, more than any other on-the-job cause of death, law enforcement officers have fallen victim to fatal traffic related incidents.

In a six year period, killed in ground transportation incidents were no less than 67 EMS providers.

These are the men and women that are coming to our aid! They are the rescuers. If they can’t be safe, what hope have we? It is absolutely essential that we do everything possible to make emergency vehicles as clearly marked, lit, etc., as possible.

What Works Best?

Both passive and active conspicuity treatments were found to improve the recognizability and visibility of emergency vehicles. Examples would be the increased use of reflective materials and enhanced warning light systems.

Findings of a recent study regarding the increase of conspicuity and visibility of emergency vehicles were as follows:

  • It actually is possible to overdo the use of lights, sirens, and reflective materials. It may also interfere with the ability of other drivers to recognize/distinguish hazards of other varying types.
  • During daylight hours, the best colors for higher visibility tend to be fluorescent orange and yellow-green.
  • To assist drivers in locating hazardous situations, contrasting colors should be used.
  • Recognition is as important as visibility when it comes to emergency vehicle conspicuity.
  • Retro-reflective materials are showing excellent results and will likely be used in increasing amounts.

Mickey Genuine Parts stocks lighting kits that will make your vehicle more noticeable. We also stock safety and reflective gear that can be used when you experience an emergency on the road. Speak to one of our knowledgeable representatives today if you have questions or would like to place an order.

Let’s keep truckin'.

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