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Car accidents involving snow plows can be reduced

December 21, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

MDOT is installing green lights on snow plows to make them more visible and to alert motorists to the need for caution in wintery conditions

How green lights on the backs of snow plows can prevent rear-end crashes

The green lights we see now on the backs of Michigan snow plows aren’t there to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

They’re there for safety. These green lights are aimed at reducing the number of car accidents involving snow plows in wintery conditions.

After a change in the law last year and an initial rollout last winter, the Michigan Department of Transportation and county road commissions throughout the state are continuing their push to install oscillating green safety lights on the backs of snow plows.

The safety goal is four-fold:

  • The green lights on snow plows help to alert motorists to wintery, low-visibility conditions.
  • They serve as a reminder to drive at an appropriate speed because of winter road conditions.
  • The green lights raise motorists’ awareness of the presence of snow plows – whose drivers are putting themselves at risk to clear the roadways and make them safer for motorists.
  • By increasing visibility and awareness, the oscillating green safety lights will prevent rear-end crashes involving snow plows.

Accident lawyers like myself applaud the MDOT’s “greenlighting” of the green, safety light program.

The green lights will be more effective at catching motorists’ attention and, as the Kent County Road Commission’s pilot-program experience between 2014-16 has shown, more attentive and alert drivers translates into fewer rear-end crashes into snow plows:

  • “We haven’t had any rear-end accidents with the green lights on the trucks that we’ve had for the past two years and that’s what we’re really trying to eliminate,” said Jerry Byrne, KCRC deputy managing director. “Folks slow down and don’t rear-end the backs of the trucks. We’ve had injury incidents in the past, so our goal is to spend a little money to save the number of accidents.” (MDOT’s 12/7/16 press release, “When Green Means Slow: Winter maintenance vehicles getting green lights to improve visibility”)
  • Byrne told WOOD TV 8 that, because amber lights were being “used by so many different entities that motorists become numb to them” and they “ignor[e] the crew’s amber caution lights” and, thus, motorists “weren’t slowing down for plow trucks.”

How are snow plows safer with oscillating green lights on the back?

Here’s what the MDOT has to say about the safety benefits of oscillating green lights on the backs of snow plows:

  • “Studies suggest that humans can differentiate more shades of green than any other color. Better visibility with green lights means safer roads for winter maintenance workers and motorists.” (“Green Lights on Snowplows Improve Safety,” Michigan Department of Transportation, “Roads and Travel”)
  • “Our visual system would be more attracted to a bright green light versus a bright white flashing light in a heavy snowstorm … Our visual system is piqued to be sensitive to the green/yellow spectrum.” (Dr. Bernie Tekiele of the Michigan Eye Institute, quoted in the MDOT’s 12/7/16 press release, “When Green Means Slow: Winter maintenance vehicles getting green lights to improve visibility.”)

What does Michigan law say about oscillating green lights on snow plows?

In 2016, the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder enacted Public Act 161 of 2016 which amended the Vehicle Code to allow snow plows to use oscillating green lights. Specifically, the new law provides:

“Flashing, rotating, or oscillating … green lights, placed in a position as to be visible throughout an arc of 360 degrees, shall be used by a state, county, or municipal vehicle engaged in the removal of ice, snow, or other material from the highway and in other operations designed to control ice and snow, or engaged in other non-winter operations.” (MCL 257.698(5)(d)

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