Drivers in snow-covered states are getting a double dose of pain this winter as the bulk of the nation struggles with bitter cold weather.
Every technology has a downside, and in this case, it’s the lack of heat emitted by light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which were installed in thousands of stoplights across the county to help usher in a new era of energy efficiency.
The lights save electricity and money, to be sure, but their draw is also their greatest downfall. Specifically, the savings derived from LEDs result from a 90 percent reduction in wasted heat. But that same heat can be a savior on wintery roads where stop lights can be encrusted with snow and ice. Without the heat, the ice and snow accumulate and drivers may not notice the light is red or green.
The problem has resulted in at least one fatal car crash, reported in Illinois, where a woman driver was killed by an oncoming driver who didn’t notice the snow-covered light and broadsided her as she was attempting to make a left turn.
LED stoplights first came into popularity in the 1990s, and since then, many state and local governments have aggressively converted traffic lights to reap the energy and cost savings. Not only are LEDs energy-efficient, but they last much longer and require less manpower than traditional incandescent bulbs, which need to be replaced on an annual basis. Savings have been reported up to $750,000 in states that made the switch.
As the nation embraces every conceivable form of energy efficiency, LED stoplights are not likely to be replaced, but local governments will have to apply some of their savings to methods that address safety concerns. Those being reviewed include weather shields, heating elements, water-repellent coatings, and good, old-fashioned manual cleaning.