California Emergency Vehicle Light State Statutes

California has specific laws governing the use of emergency lights in cars. Understanding and adhering to these laws is important, both for public safety and road uniformity, so that civilian drivers know what to expect and can act accordingly when they meet vehicles that use emergency lights. Such regulations cover a wide range of vehicles and are laid out explicitly in the California Vehicle Code.

State Statutes Emergency Vehicle Lights

Authorized Emergency Vehicles (Police, Fire, Ambulance)

Section 165 of the California Vehicle Code describes an “approved emergency vehicle” as a vehicle used to respond to emergency, fire or lifesaving calls. This refers to police vehicles, ambulances, and fire trucks, and includes both publicly-owned vehicles as well as privately-owned vehicles that serve these purposes and have been granted a permit by the Commissioneer of the California Highway Patrol.

Every authorized emergency vehicle is required to have one steady burning red lamp that is visible from 1000 feet. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25252. These vehicles may also have a revolving flashing or steady light system on the upper beam headlamps that alternates from one side to the other. These lights may only be used when the emergency vehicle is responding to an immediate call or is engaged in a rescue effort. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25252.5.

Police Car Lights

Peace officers may also have a flashing blue warning light visible on the front, sides, and rear, as well as steady or flashing police lights above the roofline. California Vehicle Code sections 25258 and 25259. Amber flashing warning lights are to be used when peace officers are enforcing an order of the court in a county with a population of more than 250,000. California Vehicle Code section 25254. Other vehicles may use emergency lights when necessary and appropriate, depending on the type of vehicle and its function.

Tow Trucks

Tow trucks may display flashing amber warning lights when providing services to disabled vehicles. The warning lights should be easily visible from the rear when towing a disabled vehicle or when moving at a slower speed than normal traffic. Warning lights are not to be used on the freeway unless there is an unusual situation or hazard that warrants it. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25253.

Construction Vehicles

Vehicles that are engaged in a range of construction activities may display flashing amber warning lights visible to the front, sides, and rear, while conducting this work. Construction activities may include but are not limited to work on aqueducts or levees, oil or gas pipelines, buildings or other structures, and sanitation systems. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25260.1, 25260.3, 25260.4, 25265, 25266.

Utility Vehicles

Publicly-owned utility vehicles may use emergency lights when engaged in the repair, maintenance, or inspection of public utilities. Flashing amber warning lights may be used when these vehicles are parked or moving at a slower rate than normal traffic. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25260.

Pilot Vehicles

Pilot vehicles are vehicles that have been granted a permit for special purposes by the Department of Transportstion or local authorities. Vehicles that transports logs or oversized loads fall into this category. Pilot vehicles may use flashing amber warning lights on the front, sides, and rear while engaged in the movement specified by the permit. These lights should be covered when the vehicle is not actively performing the function covered by the permit. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25270.

Security Vehicles

Security vehicles that are privately-owned and operated exclusively on private property may use amber flashing warning lights that can be seen to the front, rear, and sides. These lights may only be used when the vehicle is responding to emergency calls that pose an immediate threat to life or property. These vehicles must be clearly marked on the sides and rear with the words “PRIVATE SECURITY” or “SECURITY PATROL”, and cannot be used while on public highways. A peace officer may order the removal of the warning strobe lights from a private security vehicle for violating this law. California Vehicle Code Sec. 25279.

Knowledge of California’s emergency vehicle light laws is crucial to public safety and can assist drivers of a wide variety of vehicles in performing their duties efficiently and effectively. The guidelines above detail current law at the time of this writing, but statutes do change, so always confirm the regulations to ensure that you are compliant. Review these laws as often as needed as part of your dedication and commitment to providing important, essential services within your community.

For more information about what lights may be available to you, we suggest calling your State Highway Patrol office at: 1-800-835-5247 *Please note that these numbers are what we are currently able to find and the numbers may have changed since this listing.