The New York Times recently published an interesting article about the hazards caused by LED traffic lights that have been installed in Illinois and other States. The use of LED (light-emitting-diodes) traffic lights have picked up recently due to their environmental impact. LEDs last longer, are more visible and require less maintenance than their predecessor. Despite the environmental impact of these lights, there are concerns that they are creating a hazard and causing more accidents, especially during winter weather. Specifically, they do not emit nearly as much heat as conventional bulbs, allowing snow and ice to accumulate more easily in certain conditions.
In Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states, special efforts are being made to ensure that the signals do not pose an undue threat to drivers.
“Do I think the car accident would have happened if the light was not covered in snow?” said Detective Rob Sherwood of the Oswego, Illinois Police Department, referring to a car accident in April. “I’d be willing to bet that it would not have happened if the driver that went through the light had an unobstructed view of the signal. It was the first indication in this community that the LED lights were not melting the snow.”
“We certainly do see car crashes and car accidents attributed to the fact that people can’t see the heads,” said Joanna Bush, a traffic signal systems engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, referring to traffic signals’ colored lenses. “Due to the volume of snow we’ve been getting — good, wet heavy snow — it packs in.”
Transportation officials have been dispatching workers with brooms to clear the lenses, Ms. Bush said. They are also experimenting with a solution that is less labor-intensive and more permanent, outfitting some of the lenses with sloping snow shields to make it harder for snow to stick.
For most states, the benefits of LEDs are greater than the downside, officials said. LEDs contain no toxic elements and can last so long — for years — that disposal is not much of an issue.
It will be interested to see if there are advances in technology that will embrace the environmental benefits and also adapt to the hazardous issues that arise during winter weather.