Virginia State Police cars feature new red lights following VTTI safety research

Researchers: Red lights will give drivers 2-3 extra seconds to react

When you see those flashing blue lights, you know what to do: move over or slow down.

But Virginia’s seen its fair share of fatalities and close calls on the roads. Incidents of state troopers getting killed or injured during traffic stops have made headlines over the years.

That’s why researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) want to make sure you see those police lights sooner. VTTI received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Justice to study how changing police lights affects drivers’ reactions.

“It’s an opportunity for us to actualize knowledge into saving lives and there’s nothing, nothing more rewarding,” said Zac Doerzaph, VTTI’s executive director.

The study began back in 2014. Ronald Gibbons, the institute’s lead lighting research scientist, said they tested different colored lights at different times of day in various weather conditions, both in urban and rural settings. They even tried adding colors to police vehicles.

“At one point we had lime green on the vehicle, which didn’t really run in the public very well, but it was an interesting attempt,” said Gibbons, the program leader with VTTI’s Division of Technology Implementation Infrastructure-Based Safety Systems.

Researchers considered how changing the lights might distract drivers more.

“That’s the kind of work that [Gibbons] has looked at and ensured that the benefits are going to outweigh those potential unintended consequences,” said Doerzaph.

With the help of state police, cameras and radars, ultimately, researchers found that adding red lights caused drivers to change lanes sooner and put more distance between themselves and the stopped police car.

Researchers say these new lights will give drivers two to three extra seconds to react to avoid a collision.

“Every traffic stop is dangerous,” said Brett Souther, senior Virginia State Police Trooper. “We’re 6-7 inches away from traffic going by us at a minimum of probably 55 miles an hour.”

Southern has experienced the dangers of a traffic stop firsthand.

“We were in the work zone, [an] intoxicated driver was coming down 581 southbound, apparently just saw the blue lights and drove straight into the back end of two of our cars that were parked there,” said Southern.

Now, as state police roll out a new fleet of vehicles, every new car will be equipped with updated lights―both blue and red. They will also feature a white and black chevron stripe on the back of each vehicle.

Southern says he’s all for anything that’ll get him, and others drivers, back home safe with their families.

”This is the future for the state police,” said Southern.

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You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!