CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia State Police are hoping their new emergency lights grab the attention of drivers.
A research team at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University studied ways that drivers can respond faster, and ways that police cars can be more visible to drivers while on the road.
Ronald Gibbons is the program leader for the Division of Technology Implementation Infrastructure-Based Safety Systems at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). He and his team of researchers found that drivers passing a stopped police car pay more attention when the car has red lights in its light bar.
“This is the first time the colors have been looked at in a scientific way on the side of the road like how we did it,” Gibbons said.
The team conducted studies across the state. After the Move Over Law took effect, they used cameras and radars to determine when drivers changed lanes and if their speed changed during an incident or traffic stop.
Gibbons said their findings were that drivers were able to see the combination of blue and red lights better than just blue lights by itself.
“When we added red light in–particularly during the day and particularly when the vehicle sort of would appear against the sky and, you know, up a hill and things like that– when that would happen the blue light would disappear, but the red was visible,” he added.
He said the difference between someone seeing blue lights compared to red lights would be a distance of about 150 meters.
VTTI partnered with Virginia State Police in 2014 to analyze police vehicle lighting and the responses of drivers, Gibbons said. Since then, they’ve retrofitted about 60 vehicles with the new light pattern. Virginia State Police Driver Training Center staff tested and evaluated the new light pattern.
Zac Doerzaph, Executive Director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, said they investigated a variety of conventional and popular alternatives to lighting police cars by putting one behind a civilian’s car on the shoulder of a road.
“What we really care about is ensuring to keep those officers and those with them are safe. That their visibility is very clear and apparent to the public that are driving by,” he said.
Gibbons said the team used a marked police car with four different lighting patterns. They also used an unmarked vehicle with two different lighting patterns in five locations — rural and urban — across the state and at different times of the day.
Virginia State Police is rotating out their older vehicles and replacing them with cars that have the new light pattern.