New research aims to increase safety for those in and around snowplows

Current lightingOur mission is to make lives better through transportation, which includes looking for ways to make you safer when traveling on wintry Iowa roads, especially when you come up on one of our massive snowplow trucks.

Light it up – testing new lighting for our snowplow trucks
You would think that our very large orange trucks would be difficult to miss, but we still have dozens of them hit from behind every year. In a crash like that, it’s generally the motorist who suffers the most serious consequences. To help you better see our trucks in winter weather, we’re researching new ideas to improve the lighting that is visible when coming up behind one of our trucks.

New A-lights
The new lighting system has one light on each side of the top of the truck, instead of one central light above the cab.

Tina Greenfield from our Maintenance Bureau has been working on this project and says, “Last year we were able to outfit our smaller fleet of pick-ups with additional LED lighting to help them be more visible. The results of that have been very positive, so we’re now turning our efforts to the fleet of larger trucks.”

Currently, there is an amber light that’s about the size of a loaf of bread centered on the top of a plow truck. For the research project, Greenfield says they are testing two new lighting strategies. She explained, “For the first strategy, we’re simply switching to a brighter LED light bar. The second strategy is to replace the center light with two lights, one on each side of the truck. These could be programmed to be amber, white, or blue.”

Lights 2Greenfield said the benefits of the two-light system include:

  • Two lights help drivers see each side of the truck
  • Mechanically, this setup is simpler, leading to fewer issues

Right now, these two lighting strategies are being tested on a few trucks in each of the Iowa DOT’s six districts. At the end of the season, the results will be analyzed, and a decision made on where and when to adopt the new lighting options.

Greenfield remarked, “The new lights are wired to work with existing lighting, and we anticipate it could have a big impact on the safety of both motorists and our operators who are out in winter weather.”

Wipe it off – new wiper blade technology helps our snowfighters see better

Anyone who has driven in the snow knows that visibility can be a real issue. The wiper blades on your vehicle are a vital safety tool when the weather turns nasty. Our snowfighters are out in some of the worst weather an Iowa winter can throw at them. The ability to see out the windshield is key to their safety and the safety of everyone else on the road.

Greenfield also leads research on wiper blades and said, “So much of what our snowplows push through comes up over the hood of the cab and onto the windshield. That means our snowfighters have significantly more visibility issues than the average vehicle.”

Wiper blade heater switch
A switch in the cab of some of our trucks allows the operator to heat the wiper blades.

There are several options for wiper blade technology being tested this winter season. Heated wiper blades are one option, with two versions being tested. According to the manufacturers, these blades are supposed to burn through fine frost and mist. Greenfield said, “The heated wiper blades were put on some plows last year, but we didn’t have much for winter. We’re continuing the testing on the two different versions this winter in the northwest, central, and eastern parts of Iowa.”

Other wiper blade technology being tested comes from our own crews’ ingenuity. In our DeWitt garage, they are testing heated wiper fluid. The crew plumbed the wash fluid hose to run around the radiator pipe, heating the fluid inside.

Another simple solution that has been around for a few years is a “wiper shaker.”  Greenfield explained the concept, “It’s a little motor attached to the wiper that shakes the blades. It’s very common for our operators to have to reach out and snap the wiper to get rid of ice buildup. This wiper shaker is an automated way to do that. We’ve tried several different setups for the wiper shakers over the years, and we’re continuing to collect data from operator surveys to see which options work the best.”

Greenfield said, “No one knows the issues our crews face better than they do. We have a lot of new people who are asking really great questions and helping us all think about things a little differently. I’m always amazed at the solutions they come up with.”

Greenfield says once the concept is proven through research and data collection, each district can decide what improvements they want to implement. Once those decisions are made, the Maintenance Bureau looks into funding that new technology, either on a district basis or statewide.

The DOT has a priority goal over five years to grow innovation. This research, combined with the empowerment of our staff to constantly find ways to make our jobs safer or more convenient work towards this goal, ultimately making the lives of our crews and everyone on the roads better through transportation.

Simply GREAT to see innovation from the ground up!

Heated windshields from the factory would be a simple improvement that would help more then heated wipers or shakers. We have the shakers on one of our trucks and they failed before they made it through the first winter.

Would raising a light above the cab of the truck to project the flash/beacon above the snow "dusting" trail behind the truck improve visibility.? Height restrictions such as bridge clearance would be the only restrictions that comes to mind.

Hi Jeremy - Thanks for the comment. We are working on getting chevrons on the backs of the smaller pick up trucks right now -

Have you thought about placing chevrons on the back of all vehicles? Maintenece trucks, construction pick-ups and all other IDOT vehicles. As far as the windshield. I work at the CR RCE office and plow out of the Marion shop. I have plowed for 6-7 years. The truck I plow with A33538 has the heated wipers. In the past not having these was a real challenge. Now the heated wipers are an absolute lifesaver. Just cant leave them on the enrite shift. When the wipers and windshield are starting to become a issue just flip the on switch and they seem to work great.

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