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The Use of Emergency Lights and Storm Spotting

A detailed article about the pros and cons of using emergency lights on vehicles by storm chasers and storm spotters currently in the field during...
  1. Shawn Gossman
    Using emergency lights while storm spotting is a hot topic. Some people have negative feelings about it while others have more positive feelings regarding it. I feel like we needed an article that looks are the advantages and disadvantages about using or not using emergency lights while storm spotting. It is really up to you to decide whether or not to use them for your own storm spotting needs based on the information that you have acquired in regards to using them. I am hopeful that this article will help you make a decision about whether to use emergency lights while storm spotting or not to use them at all.

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    Emergency Lights and the Law
    You can buy them practically anywhere online and offline – emergency lights can basically be sold to any member of the public. However, just because you can buy emergency lights, it doesn’t give you the legal authority to use them. You can buy full police uniforms and even the decals that are stuck on the side of squad cars but the first time you use them without being a member of law enforcement, you risk getting arrested for impersonating a law enforcement official. Just because you can buy something doesn’t give you a right to use it. Businesses are going to sell you the equipment in order to make a profit, no matter who you are, what you do with the equipment afterwards is up to you and no longer their responsibility.

    Not all states share the same policy regarding the use of emergency lights on vehicles. I sport a blue light in my truck, which must be seen in a 360 degree fashion. I use this light for my involvement with the fire and rescue department that I volunteer for within my local community. I’m legally authorized to use them but a person who is not a member of a fire or ambulance department would not be allowed to use them in any fashion while on public roads. Amber lights in many states also share the same legal requirements. In my state, Illinois, amber lights can only be used by tow trucks and construction vehicles – this is what it written within the state law. However some storm chasing teams and spotters use amber lighting products but officially and legally, they can be held in violation of state law. Some states will enforce their lighting laws more so than other states, especially where issues with lighting has been brought into concern. It is important for you to know and understand your state laws regarding the use of lights before you take a risk of getting fined or jailed for using them on your vehicle.

    Emergency Lights and Further Hazard
    Some people and groups feel that emergency lights only cause further hazard, especially when used during severe weather-related incidents. This case makes sense and can be analyzed as a reality by the most people. Imagine that you are a victim fleeing from a tornado in your vehicle. You are not thinking about the fact that you should not be driving, you are just thinking about survival. You come up to a portion of the road littered with storm chasers and spotting, all sporting bright flashing amber lights. They blind you, causing you to lose control of your car and hit one of the chasers parked on the side of the road. As the tornado approaches that location, neither of you are able to safely leave the area due to disabled vehicles from the wreck.

    Most emergency lights, no matter the color, are very bright. At times, these bright lights can be hazardous for those around you. Storm chasing and spotting is not a form of direct public safety and emergency response – so if your lights create a hazardous situation for others, you are at fault for using them, plain and simple. A few hours of training each year does not give you the right to carry yourself as a member of public safety. You are doing a task that anyone can do – observe and report. Many storms are spotted and reported each year by those who are not associated with Skywarn or any type of storm chasing activity. Storm spotters are needed and we should welcome them but in the end, they are not members of an official public safety capacity and it is important to truly understand that.

    Are Emergency Lights Helpful to Storm Spotters
    Before you take the position of bashing any use of emergency lights by storm chasers and spotters, you should consider the reasoning behind using them. Obviously, vehicle that are littered in decals and with lights all over them are probably products of drivers who want to be noticed more than anything but not all spotters and chasers are sporting lights for the sake of vanity. Some feel that activating the light while they are pulled over on the side of the road helps to alert approaching drivers that they are stopped. We see this all the time with utility vehicles and when driving, we know to slow down and give them some space. It isn’t out of the world to consider the same activities from storm chasers and spotters that are parked on the side of the road.

    In many cases, a tornado often brings down trees and powerlines, making road conditions very unsafe. Members of the public don’t often realize just how unsafe the road is until they have driven into it. Storm chasers and spotters who have emergency lights can activate them and park in a manner on the roadway to block traffic from entering the dangerous area. Many drivers might see the amber-colored lights and assume that the road is blocked, finding alternative routes away from the destroyed section of the road. This sort of activity could be helpful for local officials in preventing further incident at least until officials arrive to take control of the traffic and detouring activities. Amber lights can go a long way, more so that standard vehicle hazard lights, for certain situations such as the ones listed above. But the amber lighting use can also raise concerns and be abused just as easily as well.

    Would you use lights during your chasing or spotting activities?
    Now comes to golden question about your feeling around the situation of emergency lights being used by chasers and storm spotters. Are you for it? Are you against it? Please comment with your reasoning to help backup your opinion on the controversial issue of using the lights. Feel free to add to the argument of whether to use or not to use emergency lights as a member of the storm chasing and storm spotting community. Thank you for reading this article – please share it with others to support its creation. You are encouraged to help Skywarn Storm Spotter Forum out by posting your own articles, today!

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