CRUISER CORNER: LED light bars
The bright spot in light-bar technology
Across the country, agencies are improving the efficiency and functionality of their marked vehicles by mounting new light bars that take advantage of tiny, light emitting diodes (LEDs). Three factors helped drive this dramatic changeover:
2. LED light bars are incredibly energy efficient
3. Once production lines came on line and competition came into play, the designs improved and prices came down. I'll go through these factors and a couple others in more detail, and provide some tips on switching to LED systems.
This benefit has grown even more important lately as labor prices go up and non-LED light-bars remain complex with numerous, small moving parts. LED light bars include no moving parts, and the light sources themselves will produce up to 100,000 hours of burn time. To put this in perspective, if the light bar were turned on for 10 hours per day, every day of the year, the bulbs would still be lit after 27 years.
Perhaps more importantly, the downtime of a patrol car due to an inoperative light bar can severely impact many fleets, especially in a small department where the low number of cars available means they operate virtually around the clock. Since LED light bars have no rotating motors or other moving parts, there is virtually nothing to go wrong if the bar is properly installed. The LEDs themselves are so long-lasting, the need to replace a bulb is virtually non-existent, which was certainly not the case with halogen bulbs or strobe units.
Compared to the traditional strobe or halogen bar, LED light bars draw approximately one-fifth to one-fourth the electricity. In today's police car, this is an incredible advantage because it allows the reliable use of many other forms of energy sapping equipment, such as radios, computers, radar, cameras, etc. Since the LED bar can operate with a much lower amperage than non-LED bars, the total energy demand of a fully equipped police unit is well within the capability of a heavy-duty electrical system.
And although the amperage draw is significantly less, the brightness of a well-designed LED bar is often greater than traditional bars. This has to do with the intensity of the LED, provided the angle of view is not extreme. To provide maximum visibility, most manufacturers have used a wraparound design because the LEDs don't rotate and it's imperative to have sufficient visibility from the side. Taking advantage of the LED's flexibility and design attributes has permitted companies to design in programmable directional arrows-a very effective way of communicating to oncoming traffic. This is something that wasn't really possible with strobes or practical with halogen lights.
The Stealth Factor
However, when an officer turns the bar on, it makes the car instantly recognizable as an emergency vehicle. The new generation of LED is so bright the light bars are very effective in even the brightest sunlight. This ability to go from low profile to instant high visibility is a significant benefit in patrol work. In essence, you have the best of both worlds. When you want to be less noticed in traffic, you have the advantage, and when you're running hot, the whole world sees you. In fact, many agencies have done away with the slick-top approach because they can realize virtually the same benefit with an LED bar and gain higher visibility (and lower liability) when in emergency operations mode.
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