The biggest and most dangerous vehicles rolling through Williamsport on Interstate 180 are the tractor-trailers. The most dangerous of those large commercial vehicles are the tanker trucks that often carry hazardous materials that are flammable and toxic.

Added dangers

If a tanker truck crashes with a passenger vehicle, the collision will have not only the same risks of catastrophic injuries and fatalities as other commercial truck crashes, but it will also have additional risks to other motorists and even nearby homes and businesses if the tanker carries dangerous liquids such as gasoline, diesel fuel, ethanol, pesticides or industrial chemicals.

We recently read with interest of a trucking company that took the initiative to make its tanker truck fleet safer. Groendyke Transport says that after it installed inexpensive blinking lights on the backs of its trucks, they saw a 33 percent drop in rear-end collisions over a more than two-year period.

Company officials said their tankers were in zero rear-end crashes at railroad crossings as well.

Investing in safety

Brian Gigoux, vice president of equipment and maintenance, said Groendyke “had made an investment to acquire all of our new tractors with collision mitigation systems and forward-facing radars.” They were pleased with the results of those purchases, so they decided to make their fleet even safer.

They began retrofitting some of their trailers with strobe lights of varying intensities from different manufacturers. Gigoux said they were cautious, aware that if the lights were too bright or were flashing too rapidly, that could cause another set of safety problems.

The company’s truckers said they could tell that the lights were having an effect. Other 18-wheelers and passenger vehicles made lane changes sooner. Drivers near the Groendyke trucks seemed more attentive and careful.

Through trial and error, the company has settled on amber strobes blinking 73 times per minute.

Colors of caution

A driver safety expert with the National Safety Council said drivers have been conditioned to react to certain colors of vehicle lights: blue (police), red (fire) and white strobes (school buses) each send a particular message to drivers to be cautious around those vehicles.

Blinking amber lights are often used on roadway construction vehicles, he said. “The intent is to get drivers’ attention. It’s like saying, ‘We know we’re a hazard. We’re operating under DOT guidelines, and we are a hazard. Pay special attention.’”

The company now has a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) exemption for the amber lights and the attention of other truck fleet operators. The transport companies like the idea of improving safety and reducing liability while spending very little money (the strobes cost just $150 installed).

The rest of us like the idea of fewer violent truck crashes on interstate highways.