Idaho is using red flashers on snowplows; Washington is interested

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LEWISTON, Idaho — Idaho officials say changing the rear lights on snowplows from flashing yellow to flashing red has reduced mishaps as motorists approach behind the road-clearing machines.

“Too many people were ignoring the flashing yellows and running right up to the snowplows,” said Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Reed Hollinshead. “Flashing red definitely gets a driver’s attention.”

He didn’t have exact numbers but said crashes have decreased since changing the lights three years ago.

Idaho State Police approved the change. “We get a fair amount of people running into plows,” said ISP Capt. Lonnie Richardson, who oversees the department’s north central Idaho district.

Hollinshead said it’s OK for motorists to pass a snowplow if it’s safe to do so. “There’s no difference in the way that the driver has to respond to it,” Hollinshead said. “They still need to be cautious, of course, if it’s flashing, just like with the flashing amber.”

Officials with the Washington Department of Transportation say they have no plans to switch to flashing red lights on snowplows. But plows have brighter LED bulbs on the amber lights, said Russ Johnson, a transportation department superintendent based in Colfax.

“There’s some amazing lights out there now,” Johnson said. “You can see them from miles away.”

He has concerns about red lights’ confusing motorists into thinking they might be approaching an accident. Still, he said, Washington could switch. “If Idaho did it, we’ll probably be looking at how that works out for them,” Johnson said.