Top Three Lightbar Trends in Public Safety
The most distinguishing feature of a public safety vehicle is the lightbar. From as little as two to dozens of multi-color LED light heads, the lightbar’s primary function is to provide highly visible warning to surrounding drivers and pedestrians. More than a series of flashing lights, the lightbar is transforming into a multifunctional safety tool. Here are some of the trends guiding lightbar development in 2020 and beyond.
Tying Lighting and Siren Actions to Vehicle Functions
Emergency warning devices are becoming increasingly integrated and designed to automatically adjust functionality based on the driver’s actions and behavior. Code 3’s Matrix® system embodies this synergistic revolution by programming the warning lights and siren to automatically react to vehicle functions.
When responding to an emergency, public safety professionals need to focus on the road while processing situation updates from dispatch. Manually controlling the lights and siren used to be part of running code but the Matrix system drastically reduces the need to flick switches enroute. Using the horn, accelerating, turning on high beams, opening doors, braking and other actions can trigger the siren to change tones and the lightbar to change flash patterns, adjust luminosity or change colors. The system can be customized to suit the department’s needs.
Adding sensors to the lightbar can further improve efficiency. Sensing ambient light conditions can modify the lightbar’s output. Some studies indicate that LED output may be too bright at night and reducing luminosity may be more effective in certain situations.
Autonomous operation maximizes first responder safety and improves the overall user experience. Expect this trend in emergency warning to continue into the foreseeable future.
Engineering a Swiss Army Light
Departments and agencies are asking their lightbars to do more. Since the 1970s, automotive safety manufacturers have been seeking ways to consolidate and improve warning capabilities. Back then, the combination siren/lightbar was a popular solution until officers started to develop hearing issues. Today, less hazardous options are available to turn the lightbar into a multifunctional tool.
One of the most common features is a traffic signal preemption device that triggers green lights in the emergency vehicle’s lane of travel. Using either a line of sight signal or a specified radio frequency, the device is typically mounted on or within the lightbar and controlled through the siren. Future iterations of this technology involve digital signals and cloud-based networks that “talk” to public infrastructure such as smart roadways and traffic lights.
Code 3 recently introduced a digital warning transponder that broadcasts alerts to mobile devices and in-vehicle displays. When emergency lights engage, a digital signal is sent to the Safety Cloud®, which is then converted into a notification on select apps such as Waze™. Although this device is currently offered as a stand-alone unit, the technology can be integrated directly into the lightbar.
White lighting is another relatively new capability that lightbars support. Whether illuminating a scene or remotely operating a powerful spotlight, these more practical applications are especially useful in takedowns, initial investigations as well as assisting search and rescue efforts.
What can’t lightbars do these days? More popular in European and Asian markets, message panels and camera systems are being installed in or on the platform. LED message boards are used to display the unit’s status or relay other warning messages and cameras provide overwatch as well as a mobile surveillance capability. Like other non-traditional lightbar functions, these additional systems are typically routed through the siren and respond to signals on the vehicle’s CAN bus network.
More Than Looking Cool
Smaller components and customization not only allow the lightbar to take on more tasks, they have also streamlined the overall design. Efficient and powerful LEDs combined with improved optics give warning lights much more luminous bang for public safety’s limited bucks. Lightbars are getting slimmer and sleeker as a result.
Effective design essentially comes down to the application.
Fleet managers have many options to consider in terms of both lightbars and the vehicles on which they are mounted. Beyond standard sedan-style patrol units, fleet managers maintain unmarked vehicles of various makes and models, low-profile supervisor vehicles, SUV and K9 units, community policing units that can include electric and low speed vehicles and motors units. Many also have bicycle patrol functions and may require off-road vehicles to cover the geography in their jurisdiction.
All of these applications require some kind of warning light. Flexible mounting, universal brackets and custom builds are now considered standard offerings in the industry. Here at Code 3, virtually any vehicle in the fleet can be upfit with a warning light package or lightbar, from golf carts to motorcycles to interceptor units.
Whatever size, shape or type of warning it emits, the lightbar is ultimately a communication platform. Its purpose from the beginning was to warn drivers and compel them to act; to give way to emergency vehicles. Any technological advancements and design improvements should continue to support that objective. Code 3 continues to innovate and engineer new solutions with that goal in mind. In the meantime, work with Code 3 to find the right lightbar for the vehicle and that meets the department’s or agency’s public safety need.