Distracted By the Light

Doug

Member
May 23, 2010
1,151
Maryland
Distracted By the Light: Police Lights Play Role in Officer Safety


Posted Tuesday, May 25, 2010 ; 04:49 PM


Updated Wednesday, May 26, 2010; 09:16 AM


The type of lights police departments use, play a role in officer safety.


By Karen Kiley


Email | Bio | Other Stories by Karen Kiley


HARRISVILLE -- West Virginia State Trooper Andy Pringle was seriously injured when a car barreled into him during a traffic stop.


Researchers say police lights may be one reason those types of accidents happen.


In Cpl. Pringle's case, the driver was allegedly drunk, which is likely the main reason for the accident.


It also happened at night, when it was raining, on a two-lane highway. All of those factors played into the crash.


But according to some research, what type of lights a police department is using could play a role in safety.


Big, bright, colorful police lights: they are designed to be seen from a distance, to warn drivers of emergency activity. So, why do police continue to face dangers of on-coming traffic?


"I think a lot of it has to do with public’s interest in what we are doing. I think it is a natural human response, when they drive by a vehicle that's stopped, to look and see what's going on. And it's actually part of people's motor functions. You steer the vehicle in the direction you are looking," explained WV State Trooper Sgt. James Stout with the Harrisville Detachment.


West Virginia University professor David Martinelli agrees. He specializes in transportation engineering and highway safety and traffic operations.


He said drivers tend to go in the direction they are looking. But he say's there is more to it than that, and the police lights could also be creating a subconscious reaction.


"There have been some studies in several states, that show, indeed vehicles are drawn to these lights. So, as you are distracted by the red, blue, while, you are more likely, particularly if you are drunk, fatigued, or elderly, to be drawn into the vehicle," said Martinelli.


Several departments are combating that reaction by making changes to their lights, said Martinelli. Many are going away from the high-intensity strobe lights, changing the location of the lights on the cruiser and reconsidering the light color.


"Red in particular is a color that invokes emotion, in the very situation where you don't want people to respond with emotion," he said.


But WV State Police Troop 1 Commander Captain James Merrill says, red and blue lights are required under West Virginia state code. Instead, he says state troopers are using specially designed L-E-D lights that will maximize visibility without distracting drivers.


"The uniqueness of these lights we go to, is the further you are away, the brighter the light is. As you get closer to it, it's not as bright. So, therefore it does not distract you so you run into the vehicle," said Merrill.


There is a danger of the lights being too distracting, but according to Cpt. Merrill, the real threat to officers is not being visible enough.


"Normally what happens when a police officer is struck, it's because the person did not see the trooper along side of the road. These lights are designed to attract the attention," said Merrill.


Since nothing will prevent all accidents, troopers are taking extra precautions.


"Usually while we are asking for license, registration, proof of insurance, as we are scanning the car, we are also scanning for the roadway behind us for traffic that's coming up. And really in both directions, because you can't just assume traffic is coming from behind you," said Sgt. Stout.


With a growing number of distractions inside and out of the car to divert drivers' attention from the task at hand, it is likely police will continue to face the threat from traffic.


While troopers themselves are taking extra precautions, drivers should as well.


The tips for drivers are basic:


Slow way down whenever there is an obstacle on the side of the road.


Move as far away from the police activity as possible. In fact, on highways, it's state law to move over one lane when police are stopped along the road.


Finally, do not let the police lights be a distraction. Acknowledge the police presence and then look ahead to where you want to drive, not at what is happening on the side of the road.


Coming up Wednesday, we'll take a look at how your body language can have a big impact on where your car goes.
 

mike

Member
May 23, 2010
61
usa, california
this is the reason for solid flash patterns that give clear direction and low power mode. also the ability to cut front and rear lights when applicapable is available. steady burn as well
 

NPS Ranger

Member
May 21, 2010
1,990
Penn's Woods
Doug said:
Instead, he says state troopers are using specially designed L-E-D lights that will maximize visibility without distracting drivers. "The uniqueness of these lights we go to, is the further you are away, the brighter the light is. As you get closer to it, it's not as bright. So, therefore it does not distract you so you run into the vehicle," said Merrill.

Ohhhh I get it. So those NJSP Liberties that are visible miles away, aren't really so blinding that they make your eyes tear, up close. I was just imagining being blinded. All this time, I was supposed to realize they got dimmer the closer you got. Kind of like repealing the laws of physics.


Back to the future, back to the 1970's and the moth effect.
 

RL1

Member
May 20, 2010
1,650
Ga
NPS Ranger said:
Ohhhh I get it. So those NJSP Liberties that are visible miles away, aren't really so blinding that they make your eyes tear, up close. I was just imagining being blinded. All this time, I was supposed to realize they got dimmer the closer you got. Kind of like repealing the laws of physics.


Back to the future, back to the 1970's and the moth effect.

Lol. As long as someone knows what they are going for. You and your silly delusions
 
May 22, 2010
787
Columbiana County, Ohio
I really don't see the point of officers having a fully loaded led lightbar with 8 liner leds plus 2 rear dual talons/advengers plus a 8 head liner arrow stick...


Totaly blinding and not really needed.


I'm driving down a 2 lane road with opposing traffic, officer on a traffic stop, his overloaded led rear lighting is blinding me, I strike him cause I can't see where he is ... I'll get the shit beat out of me before they even get me back to the station.


Maybe someone should suggest lower power mode that works like the siren's "park kill" feature ?
 

Pursuit

Member
May 23, 2010
72
Pulaski County, AR
ark_firefighter said:
I'm driving down a 2 lane road with opposing traffic, officer on a traffic stop, his overloaded led rear lighting is blinding me, I strike him cause I can't see where he is ...

I completely agree! Sure, most of us love flashing emergency lights, and most of us enjoy seeing our vehicles lit up like a Christmas tree. Hell, that's why we are here! However, I believe bold, and simple is much more effective than a mass chaos of seizure inducing lights.


Some light setups are so overwhelming, and blinding that there is no way you can see the police officer himself. I am still seeing stars even after I pass the traffic stop. ;)
 

Sigma Safety

Member
May 21, 2010
766
western Canada
We did extensive day and night testing with our federal police force up here and found exactly that - a calm, simple, and bright rear lighting system is very effective. Amber in particular is really good.


The worst is a really busy lighting package with lots of colours and fast flash patterns. Strobe is especially horrible (I think strobe bars should be banned, but that's just me...probably).


Overlighting creates a "light wall" that literally hides the officer from view. Our studies were remarkably clear on that one - even when we were looking right at where we knew an officer (who was in a yellow reflective thigh-length jacket) was standing - we couldn't see him. we shut down some of the lights and voila - there he was.


Don't make the mistake of thinking that because front-facing (traffic-clearing) lighting needs to be bright and wild, rear lighting needs to be the same. It serves a completely different purpose than front lighting does.


Dimming isn't the issue - a wild lightbar pattern on 'dim' only reduces the range at which you can be seen. Better to keep the lights at full intensity and slow the pattern WAY down (60-90fpm alternating is excellent), and maybe turn off some of the light heads.


I'd also like to see a standardized steady-burn colour to the rear that indicates that the police car is stopped. Like a steady-burn blue or something that ONLY comes on when the car is in park or something. That'll probably never happen, though. I still suspect that some people don't realize that the police car in front of them is stopped - and it comes as a nasty surprise to the oncoming motorist when he figures it out, 100' from the police car.
 

John Hearne

Member
May 27, 2010
346
Pontotoc County, MS
I like the idea of a steady burn to the rear. Based on my experience with them when facing the front, it seems like something worth trying.


If you pick the right lights and patterns, it is amazing how few light heads it takes to be effective. My current setup, on a Ford Crown Vic, is a set of red/blue Series 500 Supers (rear deck) in an "X" pattern with a set of red/blue M4's (surface mount between brake lights and license plate) at 75 fpm. I have a Talon CHMSL unit as well, but it is only visible when the trunk lid is lifted. I'm running an older Fed Sig traffic Advisor (top of the rear glass) and usually set it to direct traffic to the left when stopped. This comparatively simple setup works as well if not better than a setup with 4 times as many light heads.


Its effectiveness is the result of a slower flash pattern which is really more visible due to increased dwell time and plenty of black space around the lights to make them stand out more. I also suspect that the lower mounting height of the lights helps as well.
 

RL1

Member
May 20, 2010
1,650
Ga
When on nights, I like to turn off some of my rear lights when someone stops on the side road. During the day, every light I have and then some ;)
 

toon80

Member
May 24, 2010
2,489
Laval, Canada
I'm no police or nothing like it, just my humble opinion on this thread:


I much rather like slower flash patterns, be it LEDs or rotators. Crazy spinning and strobing lights flushes a man standing in vicinity of the lightbar.


I work on merchant vessels and those are pretty intense noise fields... Thus, in case of problem or if any communication situation should arise in engine rooms and such places, we use good old colored rotative or stroboscopic beacons, red, blue, green, amber, white.


I've seen many ships so I've been through many different lighting systems, all strobes, all rotators, fast, slow........ Ok, it's not like you're on the road but many times,I think it's dark enough to compare... Bright and standard speed pattern tends to get our attention faster and in a clearer fashion.


The only exception to this are fast white strobes if a fire breaks out and CO2 is about to flood the place, which means RUN LIKE HELL. :eek: Gets the attention instantly, very efficient but again, we don't drive on a ship... ;)
 

C2Installs

Member
May 24, 2010
477
Tennessee
Nothing new or surprising here. In fact, we all know this to be true, but refuse to adhere to common sense guidelines or just like our uber-bright , psycho-flash lighting setups that we have invested way too much time and money in. Simple fact is a slow alternating flash of just your endcaps is more than enough warning in 95% of the scenarios where an emergency vehicle is stationary. I actually now believe that cruise lights or steady-burn lights are an even better solution for stationary vehicles. My recommendations on warning systems configurations for police vehicles is published here...http://www.hendonpub.com/resources/articlearchive/details.aspx?ID=207396. I have followed those recommendations when upfitting vehicles for my customers and my agency's 60+ vehicles are likewise set-up in this way. It works with a broad range of set-ups and for most needs.


My new 2010 CVPI is set-up as follows:


Mode 1 - Endcaps alternate at slowest rate, full power. Used for night-time traffic stops (signal to driver), night-time response, stationary warning.


Mode 2 - Entire bar, front and rear, in blue only. Flash patterns are faster to front, but rear remains alternating in a slow mode. Adds corner strobes, grille and deck lights. Used for daytime traffic stops (signal to driver), night-time pursuit, anytime more lighting is needed.


Mode 3 - Adds flashing headlights, takedowns, and alley lights to Mode 2. Strobe pattern changes to faster flash rate. Used for Day-time response, pursuit, intersection clearing, etc.


I also have the rear arrow available for dedicated rear warning. Instead of a front cut-off feature, I simply use the Pinnacle Lightbar's rear warning feature which is programmed to alternate from blue to amber in a relatively slow pattern. This is useful for DUI stops and gives a truer front cutoff than setups where the rear endcaps still flash. Thanks to the Pinnacle's fusion optics, rear approach off-axis is still excellent.


Additionally, I have the cruise light and low-power features wired to a shared button. Way it works is simple. With no lightbar lights activated, pressing button activates cruise lights on endcaps only. If you have the lightbar lit up in Mode 1/2/3, then pressing this button puts bar into low-power mode and endcaps also have cruise lights on in between flashes, giving the endcaps 100% on-time (flashes are a bit brighter than cruise lights, so they are still noticeable).


I have had the car in service now for about 6 weeks, all on midnight shift. It is a very effective, intuitive, and versatile set-up. But I find myself using cruise lights more than anything else. I have been experimenting with them and they are the best thing I've used for effective lighting and command presence. As the shift commander, I find they are great for announcing my presence, establishing a command post or rally point, marking LZs, night-time traffic warning (use with four-ways) when on side of road, expedited runs up the main drag with-out going into full lights and siren mode, letting neighborhoods and business know you are around, scene lighting, showing police presence at calls without blinding the hell out of everyone, downgrading from mode 1 or 2 on traffic stops that have moved off the roadway, and especially to mark an address for fire/ems medical calls where we respond first. In short, they are an incredible tool and very bystander friendly.


Anyways, back to the original topic, I hope LE can come together on common sense lighting before a nation-wide standard is forced upon us. Standards can be good or bad, but if it mimics NFPA, then it will be complicated, expensive, and overdone. I wonder at the intensity and number of lightheads on the average apparatus around here. Hard to see where police cars are considered blinding compared to the average NFPA-configured truck with all LED lights.
 

NPS Ranger

Member
May 21, 2010
1,990
Penn's Woods
It used to be that beacons and lightbar rotators were around 80 FPM. The old Fed Sig literature quoted SAE research showing that 60-120 FPM was the most effective rate for visual perception. Then some of the companies that sold overseas started transplanting their "fast" rotators used on European vehicles into their American lightbars. Soon everyone jumped on the bandwagon that more, faster flashes are better. Now we have strobe and LED bars yielding 300-400 FPM from each lighthead, thousands of FPM from the whole bar. Even the 90 FPM Firebeam has been discontinued, all you can get is 175 FPM now.


Most times elaborate light patterns just confuse the public, or mesmerize them so they stop paying attention to the task at hand. Maybe it's time to spec vehicles based on needs and reality, not just on having more flashies than the neighboring department.
 

gooseguy

New Member
May 23, 2010
10
A long, long time ago, (1991), I worked with a volunteer PD based organization here in MI that allowed us to light our cars with amber lighting for call out situations. Some of the members installed the state of the art MX7k's, several had the Code 3 LP's, both full sized and half bars, but I took the low road, or should I say, low profile. I didn't have money at the time for a lightbar but wanted something on the car. I didn't really see a need for 360 degree lighting as we didn't "code". I opted to install a cheap, and I do mean cheap, $9.00 pair of K-Mart branded fog lights and mounted them in the back window and put a standard wig-wag flasher on them. I coupled this with a simple "Laser Back" system and viola, it worked. I received more compliments and questions about my intensely bright lights that we visible from "miles away". LOL, thinking back on it it's like - wow. Although, they lights weren't a dark amber but rather a very bright, light yellow. They were bright as hell. How times have changed.
 

jantman

Member
Jun 2, 2010
42
NJ, USA
NPS Ranger said:
Ohhhh I get it. So those NJSP Liberties that are visible miles away, aren't really so blinding that they make your eyes tear, up close.

If you're going to complain about something on NJSP cars, how about the WHITE LIN3's above the license plates? (As per NJ motor vehicle law, NO vehicle may have white lighting to the rear while in forward motion, not even SP).
 

VolEms

Member
May 24, 2010
2,112
NY, USA
NJSP always had white to the rear. Before the LED's they had hide away strobes in white. I must say NJSP has a very nice and Safe setup. Since alot of their cars are slicktops they have to be visible. I dont think their led's are overdone. When stopping on the GSP for a traffic stop are any highway thats not litup they need to be safe.
 

Stendec

Member
May 21, 2010
816
In 6 years driving a car with a pair of HLFs, one Model 14 or one model 284 on the roof and a pair of blue alternating decklights my car wasn't hit once. Prevailing thought dictates I should be dead.
 

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