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Flashing tow truck lights. What Gives?
August 9, 2005 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Why do tow trucks has flashing lights.

I was walking home from work last night, and a tow-truck with it's lights flashing passed me. Why on earth does a tow-truck need flashing lights. I can understand why ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars do--to warn other drivers since they need to get where they are going fast--but why on earth do tow-trucks? It's not like you have to get out of their way or anything.
posted by trox to Society & Culture (12 answers total)
 
To warn other drivers that there's a car hanging off the back of their truck.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:09 PM on August 9, 2005


Often they are trying to get to the scene of an accident and clear the road quickly.
posted by luriete at 12:13 PM on August 9, 2005


Georgia made this a law in 2003 for safety. Plenty of other states have this, too.

"The law was intended to establish a safer environment on the roadways for police officers on traffic stops, tow truck operators securing vehicles, road workers doing repairs, etc."
posted by schnee at 12:15 PM on August 9, 2005


They will always use orange flashing lights, which is the legal color for non-emergency personnel (red and blue are reserved for police, ambulance, and fire). Their use of lights is most often to warn you that they are there working, and you should pass at a safe distance/speed so that you don't hit a stranded car, driver, or tow truck operator.
posted by mathowie at 12:18 PM on August 9, 2005


They will always use orange flashing lights, which is the legal color for non-emergency personnel (red and blue are reserved for police, ambulance, and fire).

That differs by state and province, of course: here in Ontario, the only vehicles with flashing blue lights are snowplows. Fire and police and ambulance all have flashing red and white (heavier on the red than the white).

A flashing orange light here means "hazard". That's why highway maintenance trucks have them, and private snowplows, and why when possible your hazard lights on your car flash your yellow signal lights.

Incidentally (and mostly because I like to note this everywhere I can, because the more people that see it the more people will know what's coming up behind them): Volunteer firefighters use green flashing lights here in Ontario, and I believe that usage is spreading across North America.
posted by mendel at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2005


Flashing yellow lights are pretty common on tow trucks around here in NC, but last night I saw a tow truck with yellow and blue lights. It seems to me that the yellow / blue combination could easily be confused with the red / blue combination of emergency vehicles.

To answer your question though, I think luriete and schnee have it right. They just need to get places faster than you do.

Let's just hope that they don't abuse it.
posted by Third at 12:38 PM on August 9, 2005


They have flashing lights (usually orange or yellow around here) because they are often not moving at the normal rate of traffic around them, and the best way to make other drivers aware of that is flashing lights.

If they're picking up/assisting a vehicle on the side of the road (or moving one from the site of an accident), they're not moving at all, and if they're towing a vehicle they're often moving slower than the traffic around them. (And the vehicle they're towing often doesn't have operating lights, either.)
posted by jlkr at 1:21 PM on August 9, 2005


This probably didn't occur to you, because you were walking at the time you came up with this notion, but a tow truck stopped on the freeway is going to be a hell of a lot more visible to rapidly moving motorists -- especially at night -- if it has blinking lights.
posted by majick at 2:33 PM on August 9, 2005


It's yellow and blue lights on towtrucks and construction vehicles here in New Mexico. Coming from New York, it took some getting used to.
posted by hyperizer at 3:32 PM on August 9, 2005


Here's a random fact: For a number of states, funeral procession vehicles like hearses can be licensed to have strobe/warning. The color used is Purple. I've only seen it once, I think in Massachusetts-- the hearse had a small teardrop shaped rotator light mag-mounted to the left front roof while on the highway.
posted by GreenTentacle at 6:48 PM on August 9, 2005


Orange/Yellow Flashing lights are also perfectly legal to use on the road, anytime by anyone (in most states), as long as you're not pretending to be a cop/ambulance/someone-you-aren't.

You can get away with all sorts of parking and moving violations if you've got a flashing yellow light and a vinyl logo on your car.
posted by blasdelf at 7:44 PM on August 9, 2005


blasdelf writes "Orange/Yellow Flashing lights are also perfectly legal to use on the road, anytime by anyone (in most states), as long as you're not pretending to be a cop/ambulance/someone-you-aren't."

Check you local laws to be sure as this isn't the case in Alberta. Here orange flashing lights are legally limited to basically tow trucks and road side assistance vehicles.

As for the reason: people are stupid or inattentive, the lights grab the attention of those that aren't hopelessly clueless. I've seen a guy on a two lane rural highway dodge two crusiers blocking the road only to run into the front of my father's wrecker; all three of which had lights flashing. Think of all the times you've had some fool blast by you in a construction speed zone just because there didn't appear to be any work being done.
posted by Mitheral at 7:05 AM on August 10, 2005


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