Iowa DOT testing blue lights to increase visibility of snowplows

DSC00096On a bright sunny day, it’s hard to miss a very large orange snowplow. But when the sun goes down or the snow and wind make it tough to see, the mammoth vehicles can become nearly invisible.

Typically when the plow is down, snowplows operate at 20-35 mph, but are often moving even slower if the snow is deep or conditions warrant a slower speed. Since traffic is often traveling at much higher speeds than the plows, the visibility of the large equipment is vital to the safety of both travelers and DOT snowfighters. 


Since 2009, Iowa Department of Transportation’s winter operations vehicles have been hit 233 times, 141 of those crashes resulted in nearly $1.8 million in combined motorist and state property damage and 47 injuries. Last winter alone there were 39 crashes resulting in approximately $770,000 in damages and seven injuries. Plow-crash-graphic (3)

A new law passed in the last legislative session seeks to increase safety by allowing the Iowa DOT to add rear-facing white and blue lights in addition to the amber warning lights on vehicles as part of a pilot project. The lights will only be used during winter operations, a time in which snowplows are often moving much slower than the flow of traffic due to plowing and spreading material on the roadway. This slower speed is often one of the causes of crashes with snowplows.

Ken Morrow, from the Iowa DOT’s Office of Maintenance, said, “For the pilot, we have equipped all the trucks in the central part of the state with the blue and white lights. We’ve also put blue and white lights on at least two trucks in each of the other five Iowa DOT districts. For many of the trucks that were not upgraded with blue and white lights, we’ve added additional amber lights to see if that impacts the visibility of the vehicles.”



By making the vehicles more visible to motorists, the Iowa DOT hopes to:

  • Improve motorist, emergency responder, and Iowa DOT worker safety­­
  • Reduce potential for secondary crashes.
  • Reduce motorist and state of Iowa property damage.
  • Improve motorist mobility.
  • Improve emergency responder and Iowa DOT efficiency.
  • Improve Iowa DOT equipment uptime.

Morrow says the pilot project will last until 2018. At the end of the 2017-2018 winter season, crash data from all three years of the pilot project will be analyzed and a report will be presented to the legislature on the effectiveness of the lighting systems.  Decisions on further implementation of the blue lights will be made following legislative and Iowa DOT review of the pilot.


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