Can Blinking Lights on Trucks Reduce the Risk of a Crash?July 13, 2021
Yes, Blinking Lights Can Cut Crash Risks, But Regulations Do Not Yet Permit Them. Here’s Why.
When you see blinking lights on the road, they usually come with a siren. That’s because flashing lights have generally been reserved for emergency vehicles, like cop cars and ambulances.
Some motor carriers are hoping to change that, however. Now, they are pushing federal authorities to update trucking regulations so that they permit semi-trucks to have flashing lights mounted on the back of trailers. The goal is to reduce rear-end truck accidents.
Although regulators have granted an exemption to test out blinking lights on 18-wheelers, it may be some time before regulations change. Here’s why.
Background on Blinking Lights
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) set specific and strict guidelines about what types of lights must be on the outside of 18-wheelers, the colors of those lights, and when lights can be blinking. In general, the rule for exterior lights is that they must be steady burning, unless:
- Blinkers are being used to indicate a lane change or turn.
- Hazard lights need to be activated.
- Trucks are carrying oversized loads.
- School buses are picking up or dropping off children.
- Certain other circumstances apply.
Here is what FMCSR say about exterior lights and pulsating lights on trucks and other commercial vehicles (DOT § 393.25):
All exterior lighting devices shall be of the steady-burning type except turn signals on any vehicle, stop lamps when used as turn signals, warning lamps on school buses when operating as such, and warning lamps on emergency and service vehicles authorized by State or local authorities, and except that lamps combined into the same shell or housing with any turn signal may be turned off by the same switch that turns the signal on for flashing and turned on again when the turn signal as such is turned off. This paragraph shall not be construed to prohibit the use of vehicular hazard warning signal flashers.
Why Blinking Lights on Trucks?
Tanker truck fleets and others in the trucking industry say that flashing lights on tractor trailers could significantly improve safety on the roads. They point to these facts.
- Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of traffic crashes: About 1 in every 3 motor vehicle accidents is a rear-end collision, data shows. Many of these collisions involve passenger vehicles rear-ending tractor trailers.
- Flashing lights can improve brake response times: Flashing amber lights can cut brake response times by 0.11 seconds, research indicates. That’s a 10% reduction when compared to brake response times associated with steady-burning red lamps.
- Blinking lights can reduce tanker truck accidents by more than 33%: One motor carrier, Groendyke Transport, was granted an exemption by federal regulators to test the efficacy of flashing lights on tanker truckers over a 31-month period, which ended in December 2020. They found that the incidence of wrecks dropped by close to 34% when they installed pulsating lights on the backs of their tanker trucks. Additionally, they saw tanker truck accidents at railroad crossings fall to zero.
- Drivers are more attentive to flashing lights: In Groendyke Transport’s testing of pulsating lights, the company’s truckers reported that other motorists on the road would change lanes and slow down sooner.
This combination of factors, advocates say, could help prevent rear-end truck accidents on a larger scale if federal regulations were updated to permit flashing lights on more trucks. It could also help reduce the incidence of serious and deadly rear-end wrecks.
Will Regulations Change to Allow Blinking Lights on Trucks?
The case for pulsating lights on trucks is compelling, and many in the trucking industry support this move to enhance safety and prevent accidents. While regulators have yet to issue any follow-up studies on blinking lights for 18-wheelers, that could change as more organizations join the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) to get behind this issue.