Mark K8MHZ, chief of Hamsexy’s Michigan Bureau, has sent us this e-mail regarding the situation of Yellow flashing lights in Michigan. He submitted this article for your consideration.
Thanks, Bryan. First, here’s a letter from Jim, K8COP – Fearless leader of our local ARES Group, Muskegon County ARES:
It has been brought to my attention that according to Michigan Compiled Law 257.698 amber flashing lights are not only illegal for ARES and RACES members to use, they are also illegal for use on Police and Fire vehicles in the State of Michigan. Amber lights are allowed only for certain vehicles such as snowplows, utility service vehicles, military vehicles, construction vehicles, vehicles such as the Red Cross’s ERV’s, school busses and others. Absolutely no provision is made for amber flashing lights to be used on personal vehicles engaged in volunteer emergency services.
See this link for a chart of allowed and disallowed uses.
So, it seems that the bastion of Hamsexiness, our beloved amber guardian and luminous essence of authority, the ubiquitous yellow flashing light, is illegal. As such, they are NOT to be used for any purpose that the Muskegon County Amateur Radio Service (MCARES, please visit www.mcares.org) is called in for. In fact, the mere possession of the lights can be illegal. (Except for me, as I do public utility service.) Our EC, Norton Fire’s Lt. Joe Kinnucan, KC8MDJ, and our Skywarn Coordinator, Whitehall Police Officer James Durham, K8COP, cannot even legally posses this newly discovered form of contraband if either intends to use it contrary to the law. (I can just see Jim with a magnetic snowplow light on his car).
Here is Officer Durham’s take on the subject, which I agree with:
I have a current spreadsheet on the “Emergency Light” law if anyone would like a copy. It was compiled by the Michigan State Police, Traffic Services Division. It explains what colored lights can be used by each public safety agency. As for ambulances having the amber lights, that is a federal requirement that they must be equipped with it, and a Federal requirement over rides state law. I know first hand as I asked the same question when I first saw them being equipped with such. As for law enforcement that is in violation, I would contact the chief or sheriff of the agency involved and politely ask them why they are in violation of State Law.
Having been in the law enforcement field for over 25 years, I personally have taken and charged several people for possessing an unauthorized emergency light. All of those were RED or BLUE Lights. They don’t have to be turned on or mounted on a vehicle. It all boils down to POSSESSION. I know they are sold at your local automotive stores, etc….but it does not make it legal.. If you read the law, they are in violation if they sell a light to an unauthorized person.
If you are using an emergency light during and ARES or RACES event it is still is a no no… It all comes down to being “An authorized emergency vehicle”. That means being a member of a fire department (vol or fulltime paid) A member of an Ambulance service (vol or fulltime paid) or a road service vehicle.
There are several insurance companies that will not insure a private vehicle that is used for emergency use….It all has to do with civil liability…..and especially if you are NOT AUTHORIZED.
Having discussed this type of activity during MCARES staff meetings, we have decided that we are NOT going to allow any MCARES member to use emergency lights during an event…..period! We don’t need any problems with the agencies we serve. The motor home that is used for ARES activities is not equipped with ANY emergency lighting equipment. Our activity does not make our communications vehicle “An Authorized Emergency Vehicle”.
One other thing you have to think of. You have an emergency light operating on your vehicle for some reason and you are parked along side of the roadway. An automobile accident occurs due to someone being distracted, and a serious injury or death occurs, and part of that distraction was you being parked there. I can see a civil law suit being filed against the vehicle’s owners. The plaintiff’s attorneys will have one of their accident investigators re-investigate the accident and see if you were an “authorized emergency vehicle”. How do you explain that one to a jury?. Is it really worth taking the chance of having it happen? I can understand how we would want to protect human life, but that should be left up to the local responders, Fire, Police, EMS, and wrecker services that are trained and authorized to do those jobs.
We have to remember what our job is, and that is providing COMMUNICATIONS.
And here is the official policy for the use of yellow flashers from our Emergency Coordinator, Norton Shores Fire Department’s Lt. Joe Kinnucan:
Hello to all.
This latest thread has definitely attracted impressive amounts of testimony and suggestions. Most of the responses have been thought provoking, well investigated, and truly with human interest at the heart of the response.
Many interpretations may exist for this subject, and this topic may generate tasty fodder for coffee time for days to come. The bottom line, however, is this: The MUSKEGON COUNTY AMATEUR RADIO EMERGENCY SERVICES and its members SHALL NOT use ANY auxiliary emergency or caution lighting on their vehicles while performing MCARES operations.
This is not negotiable at this time. Whether the law changes to allow us to use them, or for some reason it is discovered that we can under some loophole in the law now. MCARES policy is as above. This decision is made to protect the lives and property of MCARES members, and the liability of MCARES.
Not all agreed, however.
Here is Doug LeBeck KC8ZGP’s take on the subject, which I do not agree with (however I do agree that Doug is the best pig roaster in the county, and in Michigan that is an absolute compliment):
Well, then were do I go to file a complaint against the County Sheriff, The Local EMS, and most other local law enforcement agency’s. Most of the above have the amber lights and use them regularly. I for one will continue to use my revolving amber light anytime I deem it necessary for the protection of human life, mine or anyone else’s.
Like it or not, it’s a done deal. No amber lights in Muskegon County. I will no longer be able to pull over police officers while I am driving my Z-28 adorned with a yellow spinny light. Yes, I actually did that! I was working for the Muskegon Air Fair sweeping the Blue Angel’s safety lockdown area when I got a call that someone in a pick-up truck had just blown through a barricade and was heading in my direction. I looked up and saw the truck coming toward me. A Ford, no less. As soon as it passed, I did a U-turn and got behind him, my yellow light just a flashin’. Assured that his F-150 was no match for the Z sporting a 50 candlepower mag mount with a rotating parabolic reflector he pulled over and got out of his truck….wearing a police uniform. Uh, oh! Seems he was on his way to a post in the lockdown area and blew the barricade because he was running late. I apologized and so did he. My apology was for the possible misunderstanding of my authority and doing a full lock broad slide on a public roadway and his was for not stopping at the barricade and identifying himself. We both had a good laugh about it. I quickly shut off the powerful 12 volt amber light as not to distract the pilots of the seven F-18 Hornets flying in tight formation about 200 feet over our heads. At the time, the law stated above had not been brought to my attention and I thusly knew not of the possible dangers of my little rotating bundle of sunshine.
In Michigan, it is legal to use amber flashers for vehicles utilized for snow removal. Jim suggested that we duct tape a snow shovel to the front of our vehicles in order to comply. Our EC, Joe, says that we just are not going to use the lights…..PERIOD!! I agree with Joe as taping a snow shovel to my Grand Caravan SE in order to use a yellow flasher is just too darned Hamsexy for me and the resins in the glue may mar the otherwise pristine finish of hand rubbed snow white lacquer. I don’t drive the Z in the winter. I would hazard to guess that most states have similar laws as Michigan. It just takes a little digging. I would like to thank Andrew, N8ARY, for getting to the bottom of the legal issue of amber lights by providing links to the laws and sending them to our Reflector. There already are hams that are incensed by this discovery and maintain that they will continue to use the lights no matter what we say. Fine, they just won’t be using them while working under the directive of MCARES. The staff’s take is that there are issues other than the lights illustrated by such acts of defiance and insubordination. What other issues will these people take into their own hands, in violation of written law, just because they personally deem an act to be prudent, albeit illegal? I just hope they don’t decide reveal the fact that Andrew cheats at fox hunts, only wins because he digs up dirt on the fox, and blackmails him to win every stinking foxhunt he enters, along with some that he does not even bother to enter. I think I will save the gory details of that issue for another article. I would also like to point out that the decision not to use flashing yellow lights comes from the MCARES staff, and is not a decision of local law enforcement. In fact, I asked my step-brother, Muskegon County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Dunham (who, by the way, plays guitar for the band UP NORTH and will be playing at Kelly’s Corners in Ravenna, Michigan on December 9th and 10th …plug, plug) how he felt about this issue. He stated that our use of the lights, even though illegal by writ, was not a problem for the Sheriff’s Department as we had, so far, demonstrated prudent and safe use of the lights. (The cop I pulled over was a Norton Shores Police Officer, not a County Sheriff, and Todd is not a Ford fan either). ‘No matter’ says the staff. We simply will not break the law in order to provide a public service. I also urge any ARES or RACES organization to exercise some introspect about this issue. If operators are subject to a situation that causes them to feel a yellow flashing light is essential for the provision of either their safety or the safety of others, could it be that they are in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing? ARES’s role is communications. If there is a need for a warning light, that need should be addressed by Police, Fire or EMS and the lights should be provided by and controlled by those trained first responders. I am sure we will hear more about this issue, as the flashing yellow light is perhaps the most renowned and recognizable icon of amateur radio emergency communications aside from our stylish and seductive fluorescent orange vests. There will be some that may feel wrongfully denuded in their relinquishment of their beloved torches of servitude. Is it not that cadre that has anointed the entire ARES organization with excessive and unnecessary allegations of Hamsexiness? Yes, I say. And to those I bid adieu, for those that are true in their aim to provide public service will happily comply and carry on with their noble efforts. I am, however, prepared to counter any argument to the effect that we are taking the issue too seriously and that we should simply…lighten up.