Some Metro area snow plows will turn green for safety

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Some Michigan motorists may think their eyes are playing tricks on them when they see county road trucks with flashing green lights while plowing snow this winter.

The lights may initially cause some confusion since motorists have been conditioned for amber or red flashing lights as a caution to slow down. The color green — at least at traffic light intersections — normally signals it is safe to proceed.

“It sounds strange at first, but the flashing green lights might be the normal practice in the future,” said Craig Bryson, spokesman for the Road Commission of Oakland County, which is coming on board with the practice just in time for the season’s first significant snowfall.

Jerry Byrne, deputy manager of the Kent County Road Commission, which has been piloting the green lights on vehicles for the past two years, gave it high marks.

“We haven’t had any rear-end accidents with the green lights on the trucks that we’ve had for the past two years, and that’s what we’re really trying to eliminate,” Byrne said. “Folks slow down and don’t rear-end the backs of the trucks. We’ve had injury incidents in the past, so our goal is to spend a little money to save the number of accidents.”

Denise Donohue, spokeswoman for the County Road Association of Michigan, said the goal of the new color lights is to reduce accidents.

“We did a survey about three months ago of our members and found 50 of 83 agencies were planning on implementing them this winter and others in the near future,” she said.

Bryson said six Oakland County trucks were being outfitted with the new lights and more would likely follow.

“We were sitting around talking about the program just this morning,” Bryson said this week. “We are outfitting one truck in each of our garages with green lights and will monitor how they work out.”

The Oakland County Road Commission is responsible from 2,700 miles of county road and 750 unpaved roads.

“The idea is pretty exciting, especially because we now have trucks with large wingplows and this might increase visibility,” Bryson said. “We don’t know how far we will take this but like anything else, if it helps to increase safety, its worth doing.”

Wayne County Public Works spokesperson Kaye Byrd said: “We don’t have green lights in the works at this time but are always looking at ways to improve safety.”

“We will be watching how they work out elsewhere,” said Byrd, whose drivers handle about 5,000 miles over 99 snow routes in 43 communities.

Leo Ciavatta, the Macomb County road maintenance supervisor, said it is not participating, but didn’t rule out future involvement with green flashing lights.

“It’s still a pilot project in some communities and we don’t see a need to right now,” he said, noting red, amber beacon and brake lights and bright LED lights on the county’s trucks provide safety.

Macomb trucks handle 1,880 miles of county roadway and 320 miles of unpaved backroads, Ciavatta said.

The cost of installing the lights is minimal, according to Mark Geib, Michigan Department of Transportation engineer of Operations Field Services. It also be done when trucks are replaced at no additional expense.

“The cost, really, to the state is just the lens on the back of a light,” Geib said. “It’s small. Something less than $100 per truck.

“So, since we put lights on anyway, in time there’s really going to be no additional cost to speak of.”

The color change is “evolutionary,” Donohue explained. “The human eye can detect green lights more easily than other colors which have been the standard for years in warning lights.”

Dr. Bernie Tekiele of the Michigan Eye Institute backs that up.

“Our visual system would be more attracted to a bright green light versus a bright white flashing light in a heavy snowstorm,” he said. “Our visual system is piqued to be sensitive to the green/yellow spectrum.”

Wider use of the flashing green lights is a result of legislation sponsored by State Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, that allows the use of the color green on maintenance vehicles.

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Learn more

■A video about the changes can be found on MDOT’s YouTube channel at

■More information is also available in an infographic at

Download a media kit featuring footage of snowplows with the new green lights in action, along with soundbites from Mark Geib, MDOT engineer of Operations Field Services at