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Towing the Line Between Warning Lighting Color

The Dirt Report

Towing the Line Between Warning Lighting Color

In the United States, various state governments can set a whole range of regulations, even impacting tow truck lighting. Like the wide variations in police and fire truck lighting, the colors allowed or required for tow trucks can change drastically from one state to another.

Not only may the light color requirement be different, one state might require strobe lights, while others compel tow trucks to use oscillating or rotating lights. Certain states want tow trucks to use one light color when stopped on the road or near it, and another color when actively towing a vehicle.

If you operate tow trucks near any state borders, you must meet the regulations of both governments. With any luck, they line up. But, in many cases you might need to install two sets of lights, or lights that have multiple colors and functions, just to be within the parameters of the law.

The complexity of tow truck lighting can be enough to confuse anyone.

Some Examples Most states stick with the standard amber light. Among them are Ohio, Idaho, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Connecticut and Alabama, to name a few.

In Tennessee, tow trucks can use lights that are amber, white, or a combination of the two. Oklahoma allows Class AA wreckers to use lights that are all blue, all red, or a mix of the two colors. South Carolina requires red lights for tow trucks and wreckers.

Virginia has the most interesting range of light colors allowed on tow trucks. State law says green, purple and amber are all legal.

Among the most wide-open states for tow truck light colors are New Mexico, Maine and Nevada. State code in New Mexico only states that tow trucks can't use flashing red lights, and that's all. In Nevada, no specific tow truck lighting laws even exist, with the Department of Transportation signing off on vehicle warning lights.

The Psychology of Color One reason for the difference in tow truck light colors is conflicting schools of thought about light color and what it means. For some motorists, red signals danger or the need to slow down, indicating they should move over. Certain states think blue shows up better in all conditions, and grabs motorists' attention effectively. Other states don't want tow trucks confused for emergency response vehicles, and so specify a color nobody will associate with police or fire vehicles, like amber or white.

__Federal Regulations __ Of course, the federal government has issued its own set of regulations about tow truck lighting. More specifically, these rules pertain to lamps and reflectors on the trucks, instead of the flashing, oscillating and strobing warning lights.

Details include: • Two turn signals, headlights and clearance lamps on the front of the tow truck • At least one side-marker light on each side, which must be located near the front of the tow truck • Two taillights and brake lights on the rear of the tow truck

Vehicles being pulled behind the truck must have their own set of brake, marker, and signal lights, so other drivers can see them clearly, and know if the tow truck intends to turn or stop. Many times, a vehicle being towed will block the lights on the rear of a tow truck, making this requirement more than reasonable.

If you want to add auxiliary lights, or ones that go above and beyond the federal requirements, you can. Just remember they can't diminish the effectiveness of the required lights, or confuse motorists. Of course, you must follow the local color and placement regulations.

Following federal and local tow truck lighting regulations, including using the required colors, acts as a form of protection. If one of your trucks is involved in an accident and you aren't complying with the rules, it could easily result in a citation and additional liability.

One easy to solution to compliance is an adaptable lighting product. ECCO’s 12+ Series Vantage lightbar is available in all standard colors. For a more compact option, check out ECCO’s ED3777 directional, which features a sleek, low-profile design and offers 13 different flash patterns. Learn more about lighting options at

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