Law Has Put the Brakes on Tail Lights That Aren't Red

Dear Street Smart:

Recently I have noticed many motorists switching their rear tail lights to an amber color instead of the traditional red. These orangish lights come on when the car's parking lights are on. Is this illegal for the street?

Andy Jones


The law is clear on this one. Brake and parking lights must be red, according to Steve Kohler, a Sacramento spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. If people install lights of a different color for either purpose, they're breaking the law.

But there is room for amber on the rear of a car. Amber lights can be used for turn signals at both front and rear. In fact, many car brands come straight off the showroom floor equipped with amber rear-turn signals. And nearly all cars on the road use amber for turn signals on the front end and sides.

Third brake lights--such as those mounted in the rear window--must also be red, Kohler said. They may not blink when the brake is applied, and they must be mounted at least 15 inches above the road bed--either on the car's tail or in the rear window. Today, these lights are required equipment for new cars sold in California.

Dear Street Smart:

I've read or heard a lot of suggestions on how the use of diamond lanes should be changed and why some people like them and others do not. The ones who like them seem to be those who get to use them, and vice versa.

State transportation officials say that the purpose of diamond lanes is to encourage car-pooling, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road. That's an admirable endeavor. But I think that the emphasis should be placed more on encouraging fewer vehicles on the road, period, not just through car-pooling.

Many of us have gone a giant step further than car pools but are still not permitted to use diamond lanes. I am speaking of those that have moved their workplace or office into their homes. We no longer commute on a regular basis, thus we have effectively reduced the number of vehicles on the road. Occasionally, however, we cannot avoid rush-hour traffic and must take to the freeways with other regular commuters. But the diamond lanes are unavailable to us because we are not car poolers.

It seems to me that diamond lanes should be used as an encouragement to reduce vehicle traffic, not just an inducement to car-pool. Moving the workplace home is one solution that is going unrewarded. Perhaps there are others as well.

Robert H. Ledterman

Los Alamitos

An interesting proposal. As our freeways become increasingly jammed, many motorists are staying home to get their work done, using home computers, facsimile machines or just good old Ma Bell to "telecommute." Federal officials estimate that 5% of the U.S. work force are telecommuters--and the number is growing every day.

Unfortunately for all those folks who work at home, a rule is a rule when it comes to car-pool lanes--or at least that's the way state transportation officials see it.

For starters, it would be difficult to enforce the laws of the car-pool lane if some single-passenger vehicles were allowed to merge onto the restricted strips of asphalt while others were not. Perhaps a special sticker could be issued to motorists who work at home, but it would make the Highway Patrol's efforts to monitor the lanes all the more difficult.

It would also be difficult to confirm who actually works at home. No doubt there would be some scofflaws who would say they are homebodies just to get car-pool lane privileges.

In addition, the idea of permitting certain solo drivers to skate in just because they work at home would defeat the whole purpose of the car-pool lane, which is to encourage motorists to buddy up any time they hit the freeways and at all times of the day and night, not just during commuting hours.

People who work at home in order to help ease the burden on our roads (and their own nervous systems) are to be commended. But a free ticket into the car-pool lane seems to be an incentive that Caltrans officials are unlikely to grant any time soon. For home workers, the greatest incentive of all is the privilege of avoiding the thundering hordes each morning and afternoon.

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