Fewer motorists crashing into Iowa DOT snowplows

Pilot project adding blue and white lights sees results

A light to the rear of the cab blinks on a snowplow Oct. 24, 2017, at the Iowa Department of Transportation District 6 maintenance garage in Cedar Rapids. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A light to the rear of the cab blinks on a snowplow Oct. 24, 2017, at the Iowa Department of Transportation District 6 maintenance garage in Cedar Rapids. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Since equipping its snowplows in 2015 with blue and white lights, the Iowa Department of Transportation has seen a big decrease in collisions with its road-clearing trucks.

In the 2014-15 snowplowing season, an Iowa DOT snow removal vehicle was struck every 2,801 hours of operation on average, Director Mark Lowe on Tuesday told the House Transportation Committee.

But after the $500 units were mounted on 220 plows in the 12-county Central Iowa district in November 2015, collisions decreased to one only every 8,321 hours of winter operation. In the 2016-17 winter season, the agency recorded one collision every 8,813 hours of operation.

About 75 percent of the crashes were either rear-end collisions or sideswipe collisions.

“It definitely had an impact on people seeing them and being better at avoiding them,” Lowe said.

He said he can’t explain why the orange snowplows already equipped with flashing amber lights are now more visible with the addition of rear-facing blue and white flashing lights.

“They just leap out at you,” he said. “We know it works and we’re cool with that.”

In addition to reducing injuries, there have been significant cost savings. The average cost of a crash in motorist and state property damage is $7,725, Lowe said. The cost can be much higher if the equipment that calculates and distributes brine gets damaged.

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The pilot project lawmakers approved in 2015 is expiring. A Senate Transportation subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday to consider Senate Study Bill 3048, which would permanently authorize installation of blue and white lights.

Mount the lights on the remaining 650 plows would cost about $335,000. That would be paid out of budgeted operational funds without an increase in funding or an additional appropriation from the Legislature, Lowe said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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