Police cruisers across Ontario will make traffic stops safer and "catch up with the rest of the world" with the decision to change their roof-mounted emergency lights to flash red and blue -- instead of red and white -- say two Toronto-area officers who made the case for change.
Premier Dalton McGuinty unveiled the planned changes yesterday along with a package of proposed road safety legislation targeting drunk drivers and street racers.
The move to blue light embraces a Peel Regional Police initiative, which suggests that the inclusion of flashing blue lights greatly increases the visibility of roadside emergency vehicles and causes drivers to give them a wide berth, particularly at night.
One reason is simple science: The human eye sees blue more brightly at night. Then there's the contrast with the tail lights of other vehicles.
"When it comes to the road in Ontario, all you see is a virtual ribbon of red lights going away from you and white lights coming toward you," said Constable Gary Carty, who worked on the Peel study with Constable Ken Wright.
"The common perspective is that the flashing light draws people toward it, in the same way that a moth is drawn to a flame. The reality is that it is due to perception delay. People do not see the warning until they are right on top of it," Constable Carty said.
If using the blue light is best practice, then Ontario is still in the dark.
The RCMP, all other Canadian provinces, members of the European Union, all 50 American states and all but a handful of the remaining world nations use emergency blue lighting in police cruisers, Constable Carty said.
Of 200 Peel police cruiser crashes last year, 18 involved rear-end roadside accidents.
Ontario Chief Coroner James Cairns said statistics suggest that the colour change will greatly reduce the number of officers who are killed or seriously injured during routine roadside traffic stops.
Citing selected figures, Constable Wright said that 16 of 25 officer fatalities in 1994 were traffic-related, many of them incidents.
"There is more danger to police officers at the side of the road than in any other place within the scope of our duty," he said.
When Constable Wright looked at Sûreté de Quebec cruiser accident statistics, he found that only 3.75 per cent of their accidents involved stopped police vehicles. He chose the Sûreté because its policies governing road stops are identical to Peel's.
"And the only difference is that they have blue lights and we don't," he said.
Constable Wright, a 25-year police veteran, said he began wondering a few years ago why police cars across Ontario still used red and white flashing lights.
Existing Ontario law bans blue lights from being used on anything but snow plows and snow-removal vehicles.
But two key ministers in Mr. McGuinty's government -- Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield and Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Monte Kwinter -- have embraced the suggestion to give police cruisers an exemption.
The best part of the plan, Constables Carty and Wright said, is that it will not put Ontario police services, well, in the red.
Police services across Ontario are already in the process of replacing rooftop lighting bars that use power-sucking halogen bulbs with state-of-the-art LED lights, which require about one-fifth the energy. There is no extra cost, the pair noted, to install flashing blue LED instead of flashing white LED lights.
Special to The Globe and Mail