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Don’t get blinded by the light: A lighting guide for last-mile delivery vehicles

David Sickels is the Associate Editor of Tire Review and Fleet Equipment magazines. He has a history of working in the media, marketing and automotive industries in both print and online.

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Imagine you’re on the set of Hollywood’s next big blockbuster. The media can’t stop talking about it, and you’re in the director’s chair. You’ve hired the actors and built the props; now it’s time to shoot your first scene. What’s the first word you yell to the production crew?

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“Lights,” of course! There is no “camera” and no “action” without the lights.

Just like this imaginary movie, the last-mile delivery sector is getting a lot of attention right now. But just as it goes with the movie business, spec’ing the wrong lights on a last-mile delivery vehicle can compromise the entire operation—everything from the safety of the driver and the security of the cargo right down to productivity and overall ROI of the fleet.

Following the minimum federal lighting standards is certainly the place to start whether you’re outfitting a truck or van, but how do you know if it’s time to up your lighting game, and what’s in it for you when you do?

Fleet Equipment reached out to the lighting experts for the answers.

Lighting tips for better ROI

Getting the lighting right doesn’t seem like it should be complicated, but start to consider features like bulb style, beam patterns, color temperature, electrical system strain, regulations and warranties, and you begin to see how the intricacies of each detail can affect important factors like safety, security and productivity. No matter what light is being considered, interior or exterior, maximizing those three factors is always the goal.

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Fleets that control these factors the most are bound to see the most ROI in the long run, says John Grote, global vice president of sales and marketing for Grote Industries. With that in mind, it is always in a fleet’s best interest to buy investment-grade lighting whenever possible.

“A quality, comprehensive lighting system with components designed specifically to work together will provide the best performance and maximum value over the long haul,” Grote says. “Cutting corners and mixing systems results in lower-quality and less reliable lighting, and any savings are quickly offset by increased maintenance costs, greater safety concerns and a poor work environment for the driver. By choosing quality up front, investment-grade lighting is consistently the least expensive option over the life of your equipment in terms of total cost of ownership.”

Most lighting manufacturers will recommend LEDs in most parts of the vehicle for fleets searching for the highest-quality lighting solution. Marcus Hester, vice president of sales and marketing at Optronics International, explains why LED lighting—which uses a fraction of the power needed to run incandescent lights, and can last more than 50 times longer—is a natural fit for last-mile deliveries:

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“It’s easy to add plenty of lights without burdening a vehicle’s electrical system and, once installed, LED lights are extremely reliable and simply won’t burn out after only a few thousand hours,” he says. “White LED lighting generates a beam quality that approximates the color temperature of natural sunlight, the type of light that best suits human vision. Not only does it help workers to see what they are doing, it also has the added physiological benefit of keeping them more alert, by fooling the brain into thinking that it’s daytime, even though it’s nighttime.”

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Proper levels of light at the right color temperature can help drivers to easily read labels, sign paperwork and sort and load packages

Why color temperature matters

A light’s color temperature is measured on the Kelvin (K) temperature scale. Those shopping for LED lights will find a variety of options available on the marketplace, typically anywhere from 2.3K to 6K, and choice matters here. Both color temperature and the brightness of the lights can go a long way when it comes to a fleet’s driver retention efforts, says Kristen Goodson, vice president of product management at Peterson Manufacturing.

“5K lights appear brighter because they more closely approximate daylight and work well in workspaces, but 3K lights are softer light and what people are used to in their homes,” Goodson says. “We lean towards 5K lights when brightness is important, like a cargo area. Warmer 3K lights might be better in the cab depending on the use case, because 5K may cause temporary blindness due to their brightness.”

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“Proper levels of light at the right color temperature can also significantly impact productivity by ensuring that drivers can easily read labels, sign paperwork, or sort and load packages,” adds Grote. “If the lights are too bright or too dim, routine tasks become challenging and driver dissatisfaction increases.”

Shedding light that you can trust

Though LEDs often come at a higher initial cost, Paul Sniegocki, chief technology officer for Clarience Technologies, says LED lighting proves time and again to significantly outlast traditional lighting options and cost significantly less over the life of a vehicle.

“Final-mile delivery vehicles spend more time with their doors open than typical vehicles, so the use of LED interior lighting is imperative for long-life lighting and consistent, bright illumination.,” Sniegocki says. “Furthermore, we are seeing an increase in overnight, nighttime and early-morning delivery, so proper vehicle lighting, both inside and out, is important for a delivery fleet’s efficiency and safety.”

The manufacturer’s warranty is another easily overlooked factor when it comes to a last-mile-delivery fleet’s lighting ROI.

“That warranty says a lot,” says Optronics’ Hester. “Virtually all LED products from Optronics come with a no-hassle, one-diode lifetime warranty. This means that Optronics will replace the lamp if even one diode fails.”

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The lighting warranty becomes even more important for fleets running electric vehicles.

“As last-mile vehicles move to all-electric, lower power consumption will mean longer driving distances and/or better climate control for the driver. Look for lighting/harness systems with a long [at least 10-year] warranty against corrosion,” Goodson says. “Replacing the light takes time and resources. Look for lighting companies that have a history of reliability because you don’t want to keep replacing inferior lights.”

Lighting tips for better safety

Not only is it more expensive to maintain a lower quality lighting system over the life of the vehicle thanks to increased maintenance expenses and downtime, but spec’ing the wrong lights can also create additional expensive issues, Grote says. Chief among these is an increased risk to the safety of the driver, the vehicle and the public.

“In recent years, the dangers of distracted driving have led to a sharp increase in the number of rear-end collisions, making vehicle visibility more crucial than ever,” he says.

Optronics’ Hester recommends quality lighting for last-mile delivery vehicles anywhere the driver might need to take a step when dropping off a package. This includes the scene on and around the vehicle, including steps, ramps, liftgates and surrounding pavement and sidewalks.

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Hester recommended a few options from Optronics, including its UCL41 Series Scene Light, which delivers an intense, white LED beam pattern at a 45-degree angle to its mounting position and enables its users to determine the size and shape of the scene they prefer to illuminate; as well as the company’s new MCL80RCB LED Combination ID Light Bar & Utility Light, which enables a vehicle’s light bar to serve double duty as a utility and scene light, whether it’s mounted high or low.

“It’s simple: The more high-quality light illuminating the exterior of the vehicle, including equipment controls, as well as the area around the vicinity of the vehicle, the better,” Hester says. “Adequate lighting will translate into higher productivity and a safer overall environment.”

Of course, driver safety when driving the vehicle is just as important, and Peterson’s Goodson says spec’ing the right warning strobe lighting “can be worth its weight in gold.

“Prevent one accident when a family is racing off to an event with their kids and the strobe has paid for itself at least 10 times, and probably more,” she says.

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However, Goodson warns, like with most vehicle components, even strobe lights are sold under different classifications, and choosing the wrong class can give the wrong impression to other motorists. Last-mile delivery vehicles should be using Class 2 lights.

SAE has six classifications for vehicle safety warning lights: Classes 1-3 for J595 and J845, she explains. J595 lights are directional flashing lights, while J845 are omnidirectional (360 degree) warning lights. Goodson says Class 1 lighting is used most often for emergency response vehicles; Class 2 is used most often for utility vehicles moving slowly or blocking traffic; and Class 3 are low intensity, used indoors out of direct sunlight.

She also advises fleets looking to improve driver safety spend a minute to consider the brightness ratio between tail and brake lights.

“Last-mile delivery vehicles make lots of stops in congested streets, and distracted driving can lead to increased rear-end collisions. With a high ratio between tail and brake lights, [other] drivers’ attention is increased, which is important during day and night deliveries,” she says.

Lighting tips for better security

Last-mile delivery vehicles face serious security challenges. Not only are they filled with valuable goods, but by their nature, drivers are constantly starting and stopping, often walking considerable distances from the truck or van to make a delivery. On top of this, it isn’t uncommon for thieves looking to score to scout a certain address or residence to find the right opportunity to strike, says Scott Cornell, transportation lead and crime and theft specialist at Traveler’s Insurance.

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“We can see [where] last-mile couriers are targeted, it doesn’t tend to be an organized group. It tends to be more of a crime of opportunity,” Cornell says. “You’ll find a lot with some of these types of incidences that the thieves like to … find the path of least resistance, what’s easiest for them.”

While no one can 100% guarantee theft prevention in the trucking industry, Cornell says spec’ing the right equipment – lighting included – can mean the difference between a driver moving on with their day and filing a police report.

One strategy lighting manufacturers are using to increase security is by blending their products with existing technologies.

“We are beginning to see the incorporation of camera and motion detection systems into lighting products, which is exciting for delivery fleets carrying valuable cargo,” Clarience’s Sniegocki says.

Spec’ing lights that fully illuminate the area and are brighter than regulated can also help, Peterson’s Goodson says.

“Federal regulations have minimum standards for safety lighting, but fleets should consider products that go above those minimums, without going over the maximums,” she says.

Lighting tips for better productivity

Good lighting is like a good hot water tank: When it’s working correctly, you shouldn’t ever have to think about it.

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In an effort to evenly illuminate the largest area possible, it is a common practice for fleets to spec the cargo area with either one central lamp or a few lights spaced out right down the middle of the ceiling. However, this solution can ultimately lead to unforeseen productivity issues for the driver.

“Unfortunately, the placement of even a low-profile lamp on the ceiling of a vehicle’s cargo or work area can make it vulnerable to being struck by cargo, dock equipment and forklifts,” Optronics’ Hester says, the latter two issues mainly applying to trailers.

To combat this issue, lighting manufacturers like Optronics have begun developing corner-mount interior lighting solutions, which relocates a vehicle’s critical lighting sources away from the high-traffic, central core of the vehicle, Hester says.

“A corner location keeps the lights away from potential threats, while providing opposing beam directions that reduce shadows and dark areas, enhancing overall interior illumination quality,” he says, adding there are even lamps today that feature passive infrared (PIR) sensor technology capable of being dimmed and turning lights on and off automatically.

Peterson’s Goodson says solutions like corner-mounted lights can actually produce more light while using less lighting units.

“Many times, the ideal placement of lights can reduce the number of lights required as well as the strain on your electrical system,” she says. “Depending on the cargo section of your vehicle, positioning lights in the corners of the ceiling may give you more light where it’s needed versus running the lights down the center of the ceiling.”

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Speaking of the electrical system, spec’ing the wrong lighting can draw a lot more power than is necessary, a consequence that can be detrimental especially during winter months. As mentioned above, a simple way to cut back on the electricity needed for lighting is to use LED lights, which feature a lower amp draw than incandescent bulbs.

Another way to maximize system performance is to routinely inspect electrical connections to prevent corrosion and wear from gaining a foothold, Grote says.

“Standard maintenance can take care of many of the concerns about strain on a vehicle’s battery, but useful technology such as timer switches and motion-activated lights can ensure that some lights are only on when necessary and are not left to drain the battery,” Grote says.

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