The Albuquerque Journal published an interesting article on July 16 (2018) discussing the confusion drivers face when presented with flashing emergency lights on public roads. Writer D’Val Westphal referred to the “rainbow of flashing vehicle lights” she frequently encounters and how confusing they are. Her article acts a reminder to tow operators of the need to know their own state’s laws regarding towing lights.
Westphal explains that consumer confusion rests in a lack of knowledge. The problem is that regulations vary from state to state. What is mandated in New Mexico may not match regulations in neighboring Arizona, for example. So tow operators have to know their own state’s rules. If an operator covers areas across state lines, he or she needs to know the laws in both states.
Westphal did a little digging and found out what the law says in New Mexico. According to state law, the only vehicles allowed to display red flashing lights that are visible from the front are by police cruisers, fire trucks, ambulances, and school buses.
State law goes on to distinguish other authorized vehicles allowed to display emergency lights. They include tow trucks. However, these other authorized vehicles must use lights other than red and blue. Amber is probably the most popular alternative.
Just to demonstrate how different state laws can be, here are a few more to consider:
Most states also have laws regarding temporary towing lights on disabled vehicles. In other words, the tow operator may attach a temporary light bar to the back of a vehicle being towed so as to provide both turn signals and brake lights. Such lights would display the same colors as a car: red for brake and tail lights and either red or amber for turn signals.
Mytee Products, a company that sells cargo control and towing equipment, explains that tow operators generally work with two kinds of lights. First are the permanent lights mounted on their trucks. These are typically light bars that display amber, blue, or white. Second are the temporary lights attached to disabled vehicles for safe towing.
Towing lights come in a variety of colors and configurations to satisfy the various state laws. It is up to tow operators to know the laws in their own states so as to purchase the correct kinds of lights.