Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Green, yellow, red and white: Some new colors and steps we’re taking to help keep everyone safe on the roads

By Barbara LaBoe

If you see green and yellow flashing lights on the road don't be alarmed – but please do pay attention.

The green and yellow lights aren't aliens coming to Earth. They're simply one more way we're helping keep our crews – and all travelers – safe on our roads. We've seen disturbing increases in speeding and erratic driving on all roads and in our work zones and we are always trying to find new ways to keep crews safe. Our crews – the ones facing these dangers every day – have also asked for extra protection.

Our crews work sometimes just inches from active traffic while repairing or improving our roads or responding to crashes. Despite warning signs, orange cones and other signals, too many people hit our vehicles or even strike our crews. We also have many near misses that don't injure anyone but are still terrifying.

And it's not just our crews – other travelers are also hurt in work zone crashes. Last year, the total number of work zone crashes increased nearly 5 percent – from 1,313 in 2022 to 1,377 in 2023. Of those injured, 95 percent were not workers but drivers, their passengers or pedestrians.

So here are two new steps we're taking:

Red and white reflective warning stripes

This will be applied on the back of all roadway work vehicles. The red and white stripes are in an upside down "V" design. It's another visual cue to be extra alert, slow down and give vehicles space to do their work safely. These will be on vehicles our Incident Response Team use as well as trucks and snowplows that regularly work on or next to highways. The IRT trucks currently have yellow and black stripes but the red and white are more noticeable for both them and all other trucks working on or near roads.

Red and white stripes in an inverted V design on the back of a highway truck. This is another safety standard to help people notice work zone crews more quickly.
Red and white reflective stripes are being added to vehicles to make them more noticeable.

Different colored alternating lights

Our vehicles already have flashing lights, but often we see people drive straight past them without noticing.

To help make them more noticeable, we're switching it up a bit. Vehicles in work zones and on roads regularly – such as snowplows and other vehicles that work on or along highways – will have lights that alternate between green and yellow, instead of the current yellow flashing lights. We're making these changes – both the lights and the stripes -- based on new research by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and the Transportation Research Board. The research showed the stripes and the lights changing between two colors helps people more easily see the vehicles – which is the entire goal.

The green lights are also more visible in fog.

In side by side pictures a foggy road is shown with lights up ahead. The yellow light on the left is faint and hard to see. The green light on the right is seen much sooner.
This split screen shows how new green flashing lights are more visible in foggy conditions.

Other vehicles that need warning lights will have alternating yellow and white lights. Our Incident Response Team vehicles will keep their existing red lights, which they are allowed to use because they are first responders.

The new lights were installed in some of our Eastern Region trucks last year and worked well. Travelers said that the lights were easier to see. We'll now add them to all new vehicles, and we'll go back and retrofit some of our newer vehicles. It may take some time before everyone in the state sees the new lights, but the goal is to roll them out as quickly as time and budgets allow. Making these changes across the state helps keep our vehicles consistent. This helps travelers know what to look for and what to do when they see the lights.

It is important to note our vehicles already met all federal and agency standards for safety and visibility. These new steps are above and beyond what's required as we prioritize keeping crew members and travelers all safe.

Give 'em a Brake

Please be alert when you see the new lights and tape – but even more importantly, keep a lookout for all vehicles and workers on the road.

Our crews – and all road workers and first responders – are people just like you with loved ones who worry about them. These lights and tape changes are one more step to help keep them safe, but we need the public's help too.

Please remember anytime you're near a work zone or see flashing lights to:

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety.
  • Be Kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways.
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic; put down your phone when behind the wheel.
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life.
  • Move Over, Slow Down – when you see emergency crews on the side of the road, please remember to move over one lane if possible and, if not, to slow down to 10 miles below the posted speed.

The top three causes of crashes in work zones – following too closely, speeding and inattention/distracted driving – are all preventable. That's where we need your help.

Our work crews are parents, children, spouses and friends. Please keep an eye out for these new lights and warning tape to help us ensure that everyone on the roads makes it home safe at the end of the day.