Coloured lights tell us something about vehicles

The right lights

The lights our vehicles are equipped with serve two important functions. They allow us to see and they allow us to be seen by other road users.

The messages conveyed to others by our vehicle's lights must be clear with no opportunity for confusion. This convention is followed worldwide.

For most of us, three colours of lights are allowed to be used on our vehicles. Generally, you will see white and yellow to the front and red to the rear. With the exception of signal and backup lights this is a standard configuration.

The standard allows us to decide which end of a vehicle we are looking at. If we see white and yellow, we should be looking at the front of a vehicle. If red, it should be the rear. If we are looking at the side, the side marker lights allow us to decide if the vehicle is facing to our left or right.

Properly installed clearance and identification lights tell us about a vehicle's dimensional information.

Vehicle lighting standards are set by Transport Canada in the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations. These tell vehicle manufacturers how vehicles that are sold in Canada are to be built. Technical Standard 108 deals with lights, reflectors and associated equipment.

Rather than reading through them to try and determine what you need, Transport Canada has created a visual guide to the requirements:

• Trucks, Buses and Multi-Purpose Vehicles

• Trailers

Cars are similar to trucks but do not require clearance and identification lamps.

Enforcement of the national standards are the responsibility of the provincial governments. In B.C. this is accomplished through Division 4 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations and the Vehicle Inspection Manual used by designated inspection facilities. The manual must be purchased from Crown Publications and may be available to read at your local library.

Lights on a vehicle used as decoration have no place on our highways.

Colours other than white, red and yellow are generally forbidden for most vehicles. All lights must serve the purposes set out in Division 4 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations. These regulations specify colour, placement and lamp type. Anything else may confuse other drivers and confusion could result in a collision.

If you choose to install them, “off-road” lamps—lamps designed for any use other than those specified in Division 4 of these regulations—must be covered by an opaque cover at all times when the vehicle is on the road. This applies if the vehicle is being driven or is parked.


Slow down and move over when emergency vehicles are on the road - it's the law

Slow down, move over

B.C.’s Slow Down, Move Over law came into effect more than two decades ago.

When an official vehicle is stopped at the side of the highway and displaying flashing lights, —red, blue or yellow—approaching traffic is required to slow down and move over. The law is meant to provide a safe workspace for the emergency and roadside workers.

What is an official vehicle? According to the Motor Vehicle Act, section 47.01 (1) “In this Division, ‘official vehicle’ means a vehicle that is authorized under section 4.28 to display flashes of red, blue, white or amber light." Section 47.01 (2) says despite subsection (1), a school bus is not an official vehicle "for the purposes of this Division."

Examples of official vehicles include emergency vehicles such as police, ambulance and fire apparatus. Maintenance and utility vehicles are included too. Tow trucks, road maintenance vehicles, public utility vehicles and roadside repair vehicles qualify under this law.

The slow down half of the law requires overtaking motorists to slow to 70 km/h on highways posted at 80 km/h and higher and to 40 km/h in all other speed zones. Perhaps another way to think of this law would be the 70 / 40 rule with 80 km/h being the dividing line.

The move over portion requires that if it is safe to do so, you will move into the unoccupied adjacent lanes. This could mean the adjacent lane in the same direction if there are multiple lanes, or the oncoming lane if there are not.

Remember, if you have to use the oncoming lane, you have no lawful excuse to encroach on it when there is oncoming traffic.

You are required to move out of the lane adjacent to the official vehicle only if it is safe to do so. If moving over would create a danger to other road users, you are only required to slow down.

There are penalties for failing to slow down or move over. A violation ticket for either of these offences will cost a driver $173 and net him or her three penalty points.

I have come across road maintenance vehicles parked near the roadside, lights flashing, with the operator working well off the road where there is no danger from passing traffic. This may be from force of habit rather than conscious thought, but flashing lights should not be turned on when there is no danger present.

Police vehicle operators may also choose to move their stop to a safer location once they make their initial approach to the violator.

If you are being pulled over by police using only their flashing lights but without the siren, you should choose to stop in a safe spot instead of immediately pulling over. Regardless, it is still up to approaching drivers to slow down and move over.

It is Your responsibility to be safe. If you read case law, the judge will often mention is your responsibility as a driver to be able to respond safely to situations that may reasonably be encountered on the highway.

A slow down, move over situation is one of them.

Equipment needed to warn others of a vehicle breakdown

Warning of a breakdown

What do you have stored in your vehicle to protect yourself in the event of a breakdown or collision?

Most of will probably say they don't have anything prepared for this eventuality.

In fact, with the reliability of vehicles today and perhaps not having been involved in a significant collision before, we may be lulled into thinking that we don't really need it.

Cole Notter may have felt this way. His actions, or lack thereof, were the subject of a court case after he was involved in a single-vehicle collision and left his black Kia sitting across one lane of Highway 1, east of Chilliwack, at night, with no lights on and did nothing to protect others.

Others stopped to offer assistance, parking on the opposite side of the road with their hazard flashers on.

Edward Godbout approached the scene driving a loaded tractor trailer unit. Thinking that the hazard involved the vehicle with the hazard flashers on, Mr. Godbout changed lanes away from it. He failed to see the Kia in time and was unable to avoid a collision.

That collision left Mr. Godbout's truck and trailer laying on it's side in the median and the load of scrap metal strewn across the westbound lanes.

The judge found Notter 100% liable for the collision involving Godbout because he did nothing to warn others of the hazard he created. The settlement amounted to almost $600,000.

Section 207 of the Motor Vehicle Act requires motor homes and commercial vehicles with a seating capacity of more than 10 passengers, or an overall width greater than 2.3 meters (about 7' 6”), must carry at least two approved warning devices in the driver's compartment.

While it may not be mandatory for other vehicles, it is still a good idea to equip yours with breakdown warnings to protect both yourself, your passengers and other road users.

A set of breakdown warnings is not a significant expense. Shop carefully and you can equip yourself well for less than the cost of an oil change.

If you ever need to use your breakdown warnings, a bit of thought is required for their deployment.

The higher the speed, the further away the first warning should be placed from the scene. Remember that drivers need to see the warning, decide what they need to do and then do it, all before they arrive at the scene.

Our freeways may have posted speeds of 120 km/h (or just over 33 metres per second.) Four seconds for perception and reaction is not out of the question and that means more than 120 meters will be traveled before the driver applies the brakes. If it's slippery, the braking distance could be significant too.

Hills, curves and multiple lanes may require extra warnings, so I would suggest a minimum of three devices would be wise to have.

If you break down and put out your warnings, staying in the vehicle may not be a good idea. Waiting well off the roadway is the safest choice.

Of course, sometimes weather or other conditions may not permit this. But think twice about remaining closer to traffic than you really need to.

You may never need to use breakdown warnings to protect yourself or others but the afore-mentioned case is a great example of what a bit of thought and a few dollars in safety equipment could save


How police measure vehicle speeds using laser devices

Laser gun speed detectors

Have you ever wondered about the instruments that the police use to measure vehicle speeds on our highways?

My favourite tool was LIDAR because it gave me the ability to accurately measure the speeds of individual vehicles. Although the laser must be used from a stationary position, either hand-held or on a tripod, being able to target a specific vehicle made it superior to RADAR on a busy highway.

How does a laser device measure vehicle speed?

When I pulled the trigger on the laser, it sent a train of infrared laser pulses toward the vehicle I had aimed it at. Those pulses reflected off of the vehicle back to the laser device. It had to see 80% of these pulses returned in recognizable form or it would refuse to display a reading.

The time for a single pulse to return allowed the laser to calculate how far away the vehicle being measured was. The speed of light in air is a constant, and the time base in the laser knew when the pulse was sent and how long it took to return.

The train of pulses allowed a series of distance measurements to be made and the change in those distances calculated. Of course, the change in distance over time is the speed of the vehicle being measured.

All of this was accomplished in a fraction of a second and a speed displayed on the readout. The only decision required at this point was whether I wanted to deal with the vehicle I had measured or continue to measure more vehicles in the hope of hooking a faster fish.

How does LIDAR target a specific vehicle?

The beauty of the LIDAR to traffic enforcement is the accuracy with which it can be aimed.

My RADAR was much like using a flashlight. From 50 meters away, you were lighting up the whole world and it was up to you to identify what you were seeing in the beam. In contrast, lasers emit a very tight beam. So tight in fact, it would cover a spot about the diameter of an orange at a distance of 250 meters.

If you worked at a slight angle to the highway it was possible to measure all the vehicles individually.

How accurately does LIDAR measure vehicle speed?

Police LIDAR devices are typically accurate to within +/- 2 km/h.

But what if it is at an angle to the highway you may ask. Won’t that affect the speed that the LIDAR measures? Yes, both LIDAR and RADAR are subject to what is known as “cosine error.” Simply put, the speed varies according to the cosine of the angle away from straight toward the unit.

Fortunately for violators, the cosine error reduces the measured speed giving them a small break.

Using LIDAR to gather evidence for following too closely

One interesting feature of some laser devices is the ability for it to measure the distance between vehicles.

One measured the first vehicle and then immediately measured the vehicle following directly behind it. The laser would display both vehicle’s speeds and the distance between the two measuring points used. It was a very accurate way to gather evidence for following too closely violations.

How police test LIDAR for accuracy?

The laser was simple to test as well as to use. When it was turned on, it did a self test just like your computer does. If I did not see the readings designated by the manufacturer, it was not working properly and needed to be repaired before I could use it.

Next, I needed to measure three set distances and receive zero speed. If these measured correctly, I knew that the time base in the laser was accurate. Again, if not, the laser was not suitable to measure speed and needed to be repaired.

Finally, I needed to test the aim point of the scope. A telephone pole about 100 meters distant with only sky behind was ideal. In this test mode, the laser emitted a tone based on the distance of the reflecting object.

I would pan the aim dot across the pole and cross arm, horizontally and vertically. If the tone changed at exactly the point where the dot in the scope crossed the edge of the pole, it was aimed correctly. If it wasn’t, I was able to adjust it and test again.

Is a laser detector a good investment for avoiding speeding tickets?

Laser detectors find it very difficult to “see” the laser, especially when it is aimed low to catch the front license plate. Typically, they are not nearly as useful for early warning as a radar detector is, simply because of the beam width.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories