Blue is the color of police emergency lights, however, Virginia State Police are equipping the newest vehicles in their fleet with emergency light bars that also include red lights to improve visibility and safety.
Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have found that drivers pay attention a few seconds sooner when an emergency vehicle on the side of the road flashes red as well as blue lights.
“The addition of red into the VSP blue really changed the visibility of that vehicle. And so we’re able to provide a greater distance. And greater distance on the road is more time, so it’s more time for people to respond. It’s more time for people to get out of the way. It’s more time for them to abide the move over law,” said Ron Gibbons, lead lighting research scientist at The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Researchers at the institute investigated a variety of light patterns across the state — in cities and in rural areas.
“One of the real benefits we found was sometimes the blue light would get lost against the sky. Sometimes the blue light at night would get lost with other things,” Gibbons said. “So adding the red really added in another whole dimension.”
During the day, Gibbons said researchers found the red light addition provided a greater distance and visibility.
“We can work between those two to have the blue optimal sometimes and the red optimal at other times,” Gibbons said.
Virginia State Police say the enhanced emergency lights are on the road now in new police vehicles, which will gradually replace the older vehicles in the fleet.
“This is a great example of how we form really strong partnerships that allow us to take great ideas, prove them out … in safe environments like in the laboratory, like on our test track facilities here in Blacksburg and then into the field, all of which Dr. Gibbons did … in order to bring a solution to fruition,” Zachary Doerzaph, executive director of VTTI, said.