For fleet managers of upfit vehicles or those working in dangerous roadside or off-road conditions – such as field mechanics, rescue workers, telecom linemen, farmers, landscapers, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors – using the right quality of lighting can be the difference between life and death. 

In these cases, safety is determined not just by using bright lights on the vehicle, but by producing optimal light quality to fully illuminate the environment and attract the attention of those nearby.  Of course, it is crucial for hazard/strobe lights to warn nearby drivers of danger to prevent them from driving into the workspace.

Proper lighting is also required to effectively light up the ground and surroundings, so the upfit vehicle will not be driven or backed into a ditch, off a cliff or into any unsafe condition, in what otherwise can sometimes be complete darkness.

In addition, effective lighting is also needed at the jobsite, so workers can safely and efficiently complete any necessary tasks without endangering themselves or others.  This includes effectively lighting up the scene and any work surfaces, so tools or equipment can be quickly accessed and safely used.

When making such lighting choices for upfit vehicles, working with an expert can help to optimize these lighting options for safety and productivity.  The end result often reduces worker fatigue, stress, and error, while dramatically reducing maintenance, repair and replacement.

Hazard/Warning Lights

With so many distracted drivers today, it is critically important to get the attention of nearby drivers to protect any in-service field workers that could be in harm’s way.

So, typically, SAE Class 2 warning lights are used for utility vehicles that work along roadsides, while Class 1 warning lights (with four times the intensity of Class 2 lights) are used for emergency vehicles like fire, police, and ambulance.  A variety of colors are also used, such as red for emergency vehicles and amber for vehicles that obstruct or impede traffic.

“To alert other drivers, when service vehicles may unexpectedly stop, turn, or move out of regular traffic flow, it is easy to incorporate strobe lights in hideaway areas such as in headlamp, tail, turn, or back up lamps that do not require additional mounting.  Beacons or bar strobes can also be added.  There are many options,” says Kevin Cornelius, Global Marketing Manager – Trailer and Body Builders at Grote Industries, a U.S.-based manufacturer and expert in vehicle lighting and safety systems. 

Ground Lighting

When upfitted service vehicles have to drive or back up over uncertain terrain at night – sometimes in complete blackness – it is crucial to have good ground lighting, so the vehicle does not end up in a ditch, hole, or other hazard.

While some manufacturers still use incandescent or halogen lights for ground lighting, these tend to fail prematurely due to short bulb life and high heat, which can put in-service/field workers at risk.

Instead, Cornelius recommends the use of advanced LED lights, which can last up to 10 times longer than incandescent or halogen bulbs, with much lower power consumption. 

Just as important, such LEDs can provide significantly better light quality, which equates to better visibility and safety in dark environments, where there may be no other nearby light source

“Unlike traditional bulbs, the best LED lights today also can provide an even, high-quality white light color that is easier on the eyes and provides a contrast similar to natural sunlight for better visibility,” says Cornelius.

All ground lights should also be mounted below the vehicle shining downward, typically at a – 40° inclination, so the actual light source is not visible to the vehicle driver or others on the scene.  “You don’t want to directly view the light source providing the ground lighting, or it can dilate your pupils, so your eyes are no longer adjusted for nighttime viewing,” explains Cornelius.

Scene Lighting

Scene lighting is used when high-powered, long-range illumination is required from a service vehicle, and usually takes the form of work lamps.  Again, advanced LEDs are used when safety is paramount, and night must essentially be turned into day.  This can help to eliminate stumbles, trips, falls, and work-related errors due to poor visibility.

However, there are different types of scene lighting, some of which are better suited for specific tasks.

“When work area lights are used on the rear of the vehicle, flood or wide flood LED lights cover the broadest area,” says Cornelius.  “To light up an area at a distance, we recommend trapezoid or combination light patterns.  For the longest distance viewing, a spot light or pencil beam type pattern is usually the best choice.”

In terms of light quality, LEDs are far superior to halogens.  Because the color of LEDs is closer to that of daylight than the yellowish hue of halogens, it appears brighter and can illuminate details of objects in the distance better. 

LEDs also help workers see more at the edge of the scene, where traditional lamps tend to fade out.  This improves safety and reduces eyestrain since it helps the worker more quickly and easily spot potential dangers and other important details.  For the same reason, it also can increase worker productivity, particularly when the task lasts for many hours.

Surface Lighting

Typically, surface lighting is called for when safe footing up steps or quick access to tools and equipment in compartments or truck beds is required.

While this can be accomplished by mounting LED lamps on the side of steps, or at the ends of compartments, an increasingly popular alternative is to install LED light strips wherever needed.  Advances in thin-film LED technology not only produce brighter illumination, but do so using paper-thin, ultra-light strips that can be easily installed into the existing lighting power system.

The most rugged are resistant to damage from impacts, waterproof, able to withstand pressure washing with hot water, and resistant to the most common chemicals associated with vehicles in the event of exposure or spills, including motor oil, diesel fuel, battery acid, gasoline, and brake fluid.  Installation usually involves just peeling off doubled-sided tape and pressing the LED strips into place. 

The bottom line is that any fleet manager of upfitted vehicles can create a significantly safer, more productive lit environment for their staff working in the field.

Those who consult with a lighting specialist can not only optimize such choices, but also save dramatically on maintenance, repair and replacement over the service life of the vehicle fleet.

For more information, contact Grote at 2600 Lanier Drive, Madison, Indiana 47250; phone: +1 (800) 628-0809; e-mail:; or online at