Yellow lights illegal in Michigan

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 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.

Cadet BigHaving 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”.

Yellowares Small
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.


Jim, K8COP

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.

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20 Responses to Yellow lights illegal in Michigan

  1. WA4MJF says:

    Very interesting. Seems a bit overboard,
    I did not even see an exception for the
    amber hazard flashing lights that are
    standard on most cars and trucks.
    I’ll bet there will be a lotta tickets written!

    NC is much simpler about amber lights. It tells
    wreckers they have to have them and use them when
    towing a vehicle and then lists a bunch of
    vehicles authorized them, but starts out
    “It shall be lawful to equip any other vehicle
    [they just got through with the wrecker part]
    with a similar warning ight including, but not
    by way of limitation, ……
    Even REACT vehicles make the list, however,
    anyone can have and use them.

    Interestingly the General Assembly this year
    clarified the red and blue light laws to
    specifically state that the prohibitions are
    on forward facing lights. This just codifies
    the case law.

    Happy Holidaze!

    73 de Ronnie

  2. rabidjade says:

    Seen the radio clubs around here in action and never seen them actually need amber lights. The key to helping the real emergency services is keeping out of the way and keeping yourself from becoming a hazard by staying out of the way. No need for amber lights there.

  3. WA4MJF says:

    BTW, one error that I noticed in the otherwise
    FB article was about the ARC. According to
    the article they use Amber, but the chart that
    the link goes to say NO for Amber and Maybe on
    top of vehicle for Red. Look under Federal charities.

    Happy Holidaze!

    73 de Ronnie

  4. WA4MJF says:

    I have amber lights in all my vehicles (the
    magnetic flashing kind), not
    for ham use, but in case of break down, pull
    off side of raod to make cell call, etc.

    Never used them for anything ham wise, but never had
    the need to.

    I also forgot to add that NC requires, in addition
    to wreckers, rural mail carriers and paper boys/girls
    to use them when delivering.

    Happy Holidaze!

    73 de Ronnie

  5. Lenny says:

    I liked the part about a “Full Lock Broadslide” . That was cool. I hope you don’t do that all the time in the Camero, ’cause it might jazz up the tires. But as long as the amber light is displayed, it is OK. ha ha

    I had a friend that got busted for NOT displayind the amber light while he was plowing snow in a mall parking lot. That was on private property, WTF!

    Good post, by the way.


  6. Juast one thing
    Over here there is a difference between a yellow light and an amber (orange) light.

    Dont know if that is inerpreted differently stateside

  7. Administrator says:

    There is no difference here. Orange, yellow, amber, etc. all considered the same thing.

  8. The Herb Meister says:

    This might come as a shock to Michigan ARES members but, Wisconsin ARES members have been instructed not to display after-market lighting of ANY sort on public roadways for quite some time.

    In Wisconsin, road flares, cyalume light sticks, triangular hazard signs, etc… are acceptable IF used with common sense, as per the situation. But, after-market lighting must not be displayed on public roadways.

  9. vk2qq says:

    In this country the VRA (Volunteer Rescue Association) of which the Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network (WICEN, whew!) are permitted and expected to use green flashing lights. I didn’t see any mention of green lights being permitted or banned, only red, blue, yellow and white.

    There may be a loophole there after all.

  10. Hammy says:

    Isn’t green normally reserved for Volunteer Firefighters?

    How about purple? I know the funeral procession service (if the cops aren’t doing it) use purple lights.

  11. k8mhz says:

    RE: Green lights

    If you go to the link that has the law in it you will see that flashing lights of any color are prohibited unless allowed in the chart.

    RE: Wisconsin

    I like how that state has decided to operate. I will use this as a guide for training. Thanks.

    RE: ARC

    Sorry, that was a typo. I don’t know if they actually have them here or not. BUT, some police cares do. Since I don’t care if they do or not, I am not going to call the cops on the cops to make an issue of it.

    RE: Full Lock Broadslide

    That actually was ‘poetic license’. It only has a 5.0 Crossfire FI engine in it with no posi. I like it because it looks cool and has T-tops. I want to outfit it with all Motorola gear and call it the Batmobile.

    RE: Key to helping

    You said it there for sure! That is how we operate and were today just rewarded by getting our own room in the county’s new EOC. Actually we got almost two rooms and the use of a conference and training room. We are also helping design the radio system there. Stay tuned for pictures to be posted as the RACES operations room gets outfitted.

  12. ten8 says:

    I hate it that people keep insisting that amber is REQURED on ambulances.
    If the state doesnt say it is (most dont) then it isnt.
    KKK is a federal GUIDELINE.

    Hell, i could outfit an ambulance with all blue lights, and it be perfectly legal here.

    Probably wouldnt go anywhere fast.
    But it be legal.

  13. va3igd says:

    I think whackers, in Michigan and elsewhere, should be required to use any lights they can get their hands on, any color or any size and style.
    They should also have sirens, horns, push bars and other automotive accessories and be allowed unrestricted use of such equipment.
    They should also be required to have a minimum of three radios, two scanners and three antennae on and in their vehicles.
    The vehicles should all be rusted and have bald tires for chasing their imagined enemies, newer vehicles will be allowed for the well to do whackers, of course.
    They should have their own badges created too, something that would resemble real pubic safety badges.
    They should then be trained on how to impersonate and screw up real public safety personnel.
    Perhaps they could have an organization for this within the amateur, frs and cb radio.
    Hmmmm, what would they call it?
    Whacker’s Helping You or WHY for short.
    (other suggestions welcome)
    Oh yes, no sense of humour or formal emergency training required.
    Their slogan could be “Did I do that?”.

  14. Anna Banana says:

    Wreckers in Michigan are allowed to have red warning lights so long that the towing vehicle is not in motion.

  15. Tri-axle says:

    In Georgia, a permit process is in place allowing many groups of legitimate needs to be permitted for use of amber flashing and rotating lights. Wrecker, utility maintenance, security, pilot cars, construction, low-speed vehicles, and oversize loads.
    Our heavy haul trucks and our escort vehicles are equipped with the same emergency rotating and flashing lights as state and county emergency vehicles and we hav, on occasion, lit up wrecks and fallen trees and pavement washouts until the appropriate authorities arrived on scene. At times, we supplement the police and state patrol in “s” turn accidents when one police vehicle cannot light up traffic from both directions. We refrain from directing traffic although our escort drivers have traffic directing credentials.
    We operate in 22 states and as a permitted amber light operative, we have never heard a complaint from law enforcement.

  16. matt says:

    yes but the law also makes no sense because if i had a yellow light on my truck for doing something in another state or from the state you live in i dont see how they can do anything to you.

    • Aztek Ninja says:

      Wong, some states prohibit radar detectors, scanners, and cb radios. If you go out of your state and into another one, they can take your radio and fine you for having it. The same holds true with an amber light. If it’s illegal there, better have it covered or removed.

  17. Aztek Ninja says:

    Michigan will soon be changing the law, making it legal for anyone with common sense to have an a rotating amber light. I heard on the news the the county snow plows and public works departments are going with the green rotating lights because everyone has the amber and people are ignoring them making it dangerous for snow plow operators. There is hope for the Amber light after all

  18. ML Jones says:

    I would like to correct the ambulance amber light requirement. Federal guidelines do NOT override state LAW. They are just that, guidelines. KKK specifications were created for ambulances being purchased and used by the federal government. Some states adopted the guidelines. Amber lights are prohibited on ambulances. But, as it goes, it’s not the law that matters, it’s who you are. Ambulances and fire apparatus will continue to be unlawfully equipped with amber lights because they think the law doesn’t apply to them.

    A federally recognized non-profit organization that operates an emergency response team can equip their vehicles with red lights. For example, the Salvation Army.

    There should be some provisions for volunteers that assist in disasters or special events. Some radio clubs escort walks and runs, provide first aid, etc. However, we all know what can happen when politicians touch laws. Better to leave well enough alone.

    If you are actively involved with public safety agencies and they have no problem with it then you should be good. If you are driving around looking for reasons to turn on a warning lights, then you’re not.

    As for being sued for turning on an amber light and distracting a driver and causing an accident, that’s just silly.

  19. Shawn Brown says:

    257.698a of the michigan vehicle code says any person can use warning lights to warn of hazards ahead, they may use white or Amber in the front or Amber and red in the rear, they have to be mounted at the same height for front and back and must be able to be seen for 500 feet and spaces as out as far as possible.

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