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Rainbow of flashing vehicle lights confusing

WHO GETS WHICH FLASHING LIGHTS? Kent says in an email, “I am confused regarding what vehicles and departments/organizations can use which type of vehicle lights and how a driver should respond.

“Currently, I’ve seen red, blue, white and amber flashing lights on vehicles from city, county and federal law enforcement, fire and rescue vehicles, ambulances, U.S. Border Patrol cars, buses and SUVs, N.M. Department of Transportation cars and pickups, tow vehicles, and commercial roadway and construction firms trucks, cranes, pickups, SUVs and cars. All the organizations seem to be using all the various colors, but not all the time, and mounting them on roof tops, bumpers, behind windshields, the back side of cabs and hidden behind grills. School buses seem to be sporting all the colors except blue.

“I thought there were certain colors reserved for various law enforcement and first responders, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more. Is there a difference depending on where the lights are mounted? Is a motorist required to pull over to the side of road and relinquish right of way to all these vehicles with flashing lights or just to first responders and buses loading and unloading students? And, how is one supposed to tell the difference by their lights?”

WHO CAN USE WHAT COLORS WHERE: The Albuquerque Police Department has emphasized in this column before “only law enforcement can have forward-facing red and blue lights.”

State statutes 66-7-6 (Authorized emergency vehicles) Section C and 66-3-835 (Special restrictions on lamp) Sections C and E state:

“Only fire department vehicles, law enforcement agency vehicles, ambulances and school buses shall display flashing red lights visible from the front of the vehicle. All other vehicles authorized by the Motor Vehicle Code to display flashing lights visible from the front of the vehicle may use any other color of light that is visible.”

Those authorized vehicles include “emergency vehicles … snow-removal equipment and highway-marking equipment” as well as tow trucks that are removing or towing a vehicle.

WHEN TO PULL OVER: State statute 66-7-332 states, “A. Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle displaying flashing emergency lights or when the driver is giving audible signal by siren, the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right of way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in that position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer.”

Section B goes on to say that when you drive up on a parked emergency vehicle or a recovery or repair vehicle displaying flashing emergency or hazard lights to “drive in a lane not adjacent to the stationary vehicle, decrease the speed of the vehicle to a speed that is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances and proceed with caution.”

And state Statute 66-7-347 says in part that when you come up on a school bus stopped “with special school bus signals in operation, for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children” that you shall stop “at least 10 feet before reaching the school bus and shall not proceed until the special school bus signals are turned off, the school bus resumes motion or until signaled by the driver to proceed.”

So long story longer, stop for forward-facing flashing red lights, which are only allowed on first responders, and for flashing red lights on school buses.

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103.