MARIETTA - The Ohio Department of Transportation is giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "going green."
In an effort to cut back on the amount of wintry accidents involving snow plows, the department is retrofitting its fleet with flashing green lights, said ODOT Public Information Officer David Rose.
Ohio will now be one of the first states in the nation to add a second color of lights to its snow plows and the first in the nation to use green, he said. The project will cost about $4 million.
Photo courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation
The Ohio Department of Transportation is in the process of adding flashing green lights to its snow plow fleet. The trucks, such as the one pictured above, are expected to be more visible to drivers and therefore decrease accidents.
"It's all about safety. When our trucks are out shoveling snow, they travel 35 miles an hour or less, and on interstates that causes a safety issue for drivers," said Rose.
One of the biggest problems is drivers misjudging how quickly a plow is traveling and coming up on it quickly. Previously, drivers following a snow plow down a dark, icy highway would have seen only flashing amber lights.
"There's a depth perception that makes it hard to know that the vehicle in front is going much slower," said Rose.
The addition of a second color flashing light will increase that depth perception and make it easier to gage a snow plow's speed and distance, he said.
Lowell resident Terry Snow, 69, has seen several vehicles that get too close and drive too quickly where snow plows are concerned.
"We need to give the snow plows all the room we can give them. I know there have been instances where the cars actually hit the plows. If it's gonna help with visibility, I say go for it," said Snow.
In 2009, ODOT reported 57 crashes where vehicles hit snow plows. In 2010, they reported more than 60, said Rose. The numbers for 2011 are not yet available.
Drivers attempting to pass snow plows create an additional hazard, Rose said.
"If you pass while plowing, it creates a snow cloud which can be dangerous," he said.
Drivers may attempt to pass snow plows because they cannot immediately distinguish them from other vehicles that use amber lights, such as tow trucks, delivery vans and construction vehicles.
For ODOT, green makes sense, said Rose.
"It just so happens, our logo is green and it just seems to be a natural fit," he said.
But the color choice also has more practical reasons.
"Our equipment guys have been studying this for over a year. Green is one of the most visible lights to the human eye," said Rose.
ODOT officials hope to have 500 of its 1,600 snow plows retrofitted with the green strobe lights by the end of the year. Those 500 trucks will be split up among the 12 ODOT districts, Rose said.
District 10, which includes Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Vinton and Washington Counties is expected to have 10 of its 15 tandem plow trucks fitted with green lights by the end of the year.
ODOT has budgeted $4 million for the project, which is expected to be entirely completed by the end of 2103.
Vincent resident Lisa Snyder, 31, said she thinks the lights are a good idea, but is skeptical about the cost.
"That is a lot of money to spend on it," she said.
However, Rose said the project requires no special funding. Rather, the cost is part of ODOT's annual maintenance budget.
Snyder also expressed concern that some drivers may choose to recklessly, even when the proper warnings are in place.
Rose hopes this is not the case.
"ODOT reminds drivers that in 'ice and snow, take it slow,'" he said.