Ask 2: Are flashing red, blue lights reserved just for law enforcement officers?

HOUSTONQuestion: Are flashing red, blue lights reserved just for law enforcement officers?

Answer: Sergeant Stephen Woodard with the Texas Department of Public Safety says red, white and blue lights warn drivers of a medical, criminal, or another type of emergency. In addition, flashing blue lights are also used to warn of other hazardous conditions such as highway maintenance, oversized loads, or service vehicles rendering aid roadside.

Restrictions on who can use red and blue lights are in place to protect the public from criminals posing as law enforcement, rescue, or security workers.

The following are authorized emergency vehicles:

  • Police vehicles
  • Fire/EMS
  • Volunteer fire/ EMS
  • Sheriff/constables
  • Highway patrol trooper

Tow trucks are permitted to flash red and blue lights at the direction of a law enforcement officer as stated, however they are also permitted to flash red and blue lights any time they are hooking up to a disabled vehicle or otherwise stationary at an incident even when law enforcement is not present (TRC 547.305(d)(4), 547.305(e-4), 547.105).  Tow Trucks are not permitted to flash red and blue lights while enroute to or returning from an incident.

Construction vehicles can display amber lights to alert drivers and keep them safe during active work zones. Furthermore, Highway maintenance and construction vehicles and service vehicles (roadside assistance vehicles, garbage trucks, public utility vehicles, escort flag vehicles) are required to display amber lights while performing their function. However, they are also permitted to display flashing blue lights in many circumstances.  TRC 547.105 directs the Texas Department of Transportation to establish lighting standards for highway maintenance vehicles and service vehicles. TXDOT’s lighting standards for these vehicles permit flashing blue lights in many circumstances. These lighting standards can be viewed here.  These vehicles are not permitted to flash red or white lights.

Security patrol vehicles aren’t cleared for red and blue— they must display flashing amber lights. In Harris County, tow trucks must have red and blue lights in the back. The amber lights are to be displayed in the front.


About the Author:

Traffic expert and What’s Driving Houston reporter, proud Latina, lover of animals, food and our beautiful planet.