The first police car was an electric wagon in Akron, Ohio and didn’t have long driving capacities. Afterwards, gas powered cars became prevalent. Concerning lights, the first red light was used in the 1920’s. They were used on front fenders or the front bumper.
Then in 1948 the Beacon (gumball) was developed. It had little wind resistance due to the cars not having the speeds they have today. At first they were all red. But then in 1950 the Chicago police department started to use blue so that it would be different from fire and ambulance vehicles. By the 1960’s this was the standard for most departments.
So why red and blue light bars today? Some people are more colorblind to red so we also use blue lights together. This is the case with blue colored visually impaired people needing red lights. Red lights are on the left of ships and planes, green or blue are on the right. That’s why they are on police cars the same way in case there are two patrol cars parked or traveling which gives us the ability to tell what direction the patrol car is coming or facing.
Adding blue signals to emergency vehicles enables drivers to distinguish them from a distance in that they are not just brake lights. In addition, blue can be seen better at night and travels farther, while red stands out better during the day. Some departments also utilize yellow or amber which can be seen better during fog or heavy rain.
In most cases today strobe lights are added to make the lights more visible, but they can cause seizures if more than 5 per second. In addition, high powered lighting can cause a temporary blindness and driver staring at the lights As a result, most departments have lowered the rate of strobes and reduced the power to lights.
Dr. Kuch has a PhD, MA, and MS in Criminal Justice. He is a former Deputy Sheriff and has taught for over twenty years. He is on the adjunct faculty at Galatasaray University.