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Published: 12/30/2010

ODOT snow plows may switch to green lights

Could replacing the yellow flashing lights on snow plows with green ones make them more visible -- and identifiable -- to motorists? The Ohio Department of Transportation thinks so.

"We're just a month into winter, and we've already surpassed the crash total for all of last winter," said Scott Varner, a spokesman at ODOT headquarters in Columbus. Across the state, the department reported, 63 crashes blamed on other drivers hitting plows have occurred, while just 57 such collisions happened last winter.

Most of those crashes have occurred in northeast or southeast Ohio, which have had the most snow so far this season.

Theresa Pollick, an ODOT spokesman in Bowling Green, said just three such collisions had occurred in the eight northwest Ohio counties covered by her office: two involving Fulton County-based trucks, the other involving a truck from the freeway-maintenance outpost in Northwood. Only minor injuries occurred, she said.

But Mr. Varner said the heavier-than-usual snowfalls in Ohio's Snow Belts do not fully account for the overall crash increase, and department officials have been unable to explain it, leaving them to brainstorm new ways to make plows more visible to other drivers.

According to the ODOT statement, most car-plow crashes involve either motorists misjudging plows' below-the-limit speed and rear-end them, or not seeing plows at all because they are obscured by billowing snow they kick up as they do their work.

"Research indicates that green lights have a better visibility in snowy, wintery conditions," the ODOT statement said.

Mr. Varner could not provide any specific research examples Wednesday, but noted that, at the very least, green flashers would distinguish plows from other non-emergency vehicles also allowed to use yellow lights, such as tow trucks and mail-delivery vehicles.

"Nobody else is using green lights in Ohio," he said, adding that he's not aware of any other states using green for snow plows either.

The first step would be to reserve that light color, under state law, for plows and other snow/ice vehicles, Mr. Varner said, then ODOT would start installing such lights on its trucks as funding allowed. The soonest any might be installed is next winter, he said.

Exactly how much it would cost hasn't been calculated, and it will be up to the new administration that takes office in Columbus next week to decide if the idea is worth pursuing, Mr. Varner said. "It would be minimal in comparison with the cost of the accidents that are occurring."

In any case, ODOT reissued its snowplow safety recommendations, which include giving plows wide berth while following or passing, being extremely careful while passing because of reduced visibility, and watching out for sudden slowdowns or stops.

No snow is in the immediate weather forecast for the Toledo area, but freezing rain was expected overnight on the leading edge of a storm expected to bring rainy conditions Thursday through Saturday, so some salt spreaders could be out and about this morning.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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