Shine a Light on Safety

LED technology can reduce power consumption and increase the brightness of hazard and warning lights on work vehicles.

Shine a Light on Safety

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The statistics paint a dark picture: According to the National Highway administration, approximately 750 motorists lose their lives in construction zone accidents annually, with another 120 worker fatalities.

To ensure the visibility and safety of everyone on the road, the Society of Automotive Engineers mandates that construction, utility, tow and snowplow vehicles are equipped with hazard and warning lights. Flashing strobe lights capture the attention of motorists and pedestrians and warn of potentially hazardous activities or situations.

Available in a few colors — amber, white and blue — and a variety of pulsating strobe effects, these lights come in several SAE classes and mounting styles depending on how quickly the vehicle will be moving.

Now, however, as the lighting world continues to transition to LEDs, these hazard and warning lights are available in low electrical consumption, long life models that far exceed traditional halogen or gas-discharge options. 

Making this move even more attractive for fleet managers are the plummeting prices of LED technology, which have decreased to the point that many vehicles that require Class 2 lights are instead being outfitted with brighter Class 1 options given the minimal price differential.

“Today, the entire hazard and warning light industry is undergoing a significant sea change — namely, the industry’s shift to LED technology,” says Chris Cammack of Grote Industries, a U.S.-based manufacturer of vehicle lighting and safety systems.

“The reason for this migration comes down to three factors: energy efficiency, longer service life, and brightness,” Cammack adds. “LEDs consume less power than any other lighting technology on the market and are powered by low voltage, allowing for minimal draw of electrical current from the vehicle’s battery.”

By contrast, halogen lights draw an excessive amount of current, which can eventually lead to draining the vehicle’s battery. In addition, they are known for poor energy efficiency, with halogen lights losing as much as 95 percent of their energy to heat.

Gas-discharge strobe lights are equally inefficient. However, unlike halogen lights, it is not due to excessive current draw, but instead the intense and concentrated heat generated by the strobe, which can significantly shorten the service life of the flash tube.

LEDs, on the other hand, consume only 25 to 35 percent of the power of gas-discharge or halogen lights. As a result, LED strobe lights have a service life that is 10 times longer, often lasting 70,000 hours or more.

With most of the world transitioning to LEDs, the quality has continued to improve as well. In the early days of LEDs, they were not bright enough to meet SAE requirements for luminous intensity of hazard and warning lights, measured in candelas. However, technology has advanced and LEDs are now as bright — if not brighter — than the average strobe or halogen light.

“LEDs today are much brighter,” Cammack says. “Today, they are more than bright enough to meet the SAE standard for candela over 100 feet.”

Another barrier to early adoption was the initial price point, which has dramatically changed in the past decade, Cammack says.

“The cost to upgrade to LED strobe lights was prohibitive, at least initially,” Cammack says. “Fortunately, the prices have come down significantly in the past 10 years, and now they are about the same.”

Cammack believes LED models will soon become less expensive as fewer manufacturers make models with outdated technology. Companies like Grote Industries have phased out other technologies in favor of LED only.

“Fewer companies are manufacturing gas-discharged strobe warning lights, so the price of those units is actually going up,” Cammack says. “In a couple of years, it will actually cost more for a gas-discharge or halogen strobe.”

For manufacturers such as Grote Industries, the options are virtually unlimited. The company offers class 1-3 permanent, vacuum and magnetically mounted beacon lights in both regular and high profiles and a myriad of strobe patterns. Most of the LED offerings only draw 0.4-0.35 amps at 12-volt DC.

The company also offers LED directional surface-mount strobes that feature 12 different selectable flash patterns in two phases, along with 20-, 30- and 40-inch LED “traffic directors” with a variety of flash patterns and phase options, which are ideal for mounting on front push bumpers, pickup trucks, headache rack, and running board lights.

Cammack adds that it is important to be familiar with the company and its products when upgrading to LED strobe lights to ensure a quality product and dependable warranty.

Above all, quality lights can help keep your crews and the public safe. And that’s worth making sure your warning systems are as effective as possible. 

About the Author

Jeff Elliott is a Torrance, California-based technical writer. He has researched and written about industrial technologies and issues for the past 20 years.


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