Whipping winter into shape: how better snowplow lighting can improve safety

A32899-2019-02-25_12_37_12Picture this. You’re driving down a rural two-lane road in the dark. It’s snowing. You can make out headlights coming at you in a snow cloud. As the oncoming vehicle gets closer, you see that it’s a snowplow. You can also now make out lights that seem to hover over the front of the snowplow blade near the centerline. This light lets you know just where the plow blade is and alerts you to move over as you safely move by the plow.

This scenario will be playing out in a few rural areas of Iowa this winter as the Iowa DOT tests new “whip lights” on several of our plows. The lights are attached to the edge of the plow to not only show oncoming traffic where the plow is but also give a visual cue to the operator. The steady amber light will take the place of flags that are currently used to show the edge of the plow blade.

Tina Greenfield of our Maintenance Bureau said, “We’ve used these whip lights pretty extensively around the state on wing plows on the side of the trucks and tow plows that are being pulled behind a truck. They work very well to help drivers see where the plow blade is working. Now, we’re taking this technology a step further and attaching them to the front plow blade.”


Different lengths of lights will be tested on plows in several Iowa DOT shops around the state. Greenfield said, “We have a number of different trucks with different dimensions. We want the whip lights to be in the view of the operator, but we don’t want them too tall. We’re experimenting with both 18-inch and 24-inch lights.”

She continued, “This is a simple concept, but one that has the potential to provide a big safety impact, especially on rural two-lane roads. One of our goals when we’re plowing these roads is to expose the paint lines, especially the center line. That means we’re plowing very close to oncoming traffic. The easier it is to see where the plow is working, the safer we’ll all be when we share the road.”


Widgets-gadgetsEditor’s note: This post is part of a series related to our 5-year priority goal of “Supporting a Culture of Innovation” at the Iowa Department of Transportation. We are working to find innovative ways to improve processes, tools, & relationships to create positive experiences for our customers.

i'm so happy to see the big improvements shown in the above photo and the comments of poster and responder.

my late husband, jack gordon, did snow removal for 30 years from 1968 to 1998 for the ames maintenance garage and district 1 paint crew opening up highways during the blizzards where highways were closed.

i'm a former ames maintenance residency secretary for 13 winters /years 50 years in dec.!!

i became known as "betty bad weather" due to 1 winter where employees had to work every weekend for 3 months straight!!

betty gordon, ames

Lighting is a great idea!
have you ever looked at the side of a fire truck?
Wow they have lights on all 4 corners , the top and the sides!

Now, Have you ever noticed the sides of our snowplow trucks? Only 1 light can be seen from the side view angle… and its located at the very top of the truck “1 Light” really and we want to worry about a single hard plastic stick light on the edge of our plows. Seems to me like if you really want to be seen and protect our operators then let’s light these things up and be seen!!!!

Great idea!
Thank you for the work you do to keep all of us safe.
Thank you to every plow driver who weather's the storms
to clear our roads. You are appreciated!!

That's a fantastic idea!

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