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Reflective Clothing and Pedestrian Safety: The Science of Being Seen

Many kinds of special clothing and accessories are available to help increase visibility at night. How do these products compare and which ones work best? Do you need high-tech clothing or just clothing that is light in color? A new student science project sponsored by the Motorola Foundation helps students put safety clothing choices to the test. This hands-on safety science project is one that may help save lives.

Reflective Clothing and Pedestrian Safety: The Science of Being Seen

Walking at Night can be Dangerous

Whether you are biking, walking, or running, being seen at night or at times of day when there is low light (like dusk or dawn) is very important to ensure your safety. It can be especially difficult for drivers to see pedestrians in low light. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when it comes to accidents that result in pedestrian fatalities, the number of accidents per year is heavily correlated with the time of day. Approximately 75% of accidents resulting in pedestrian fatalities occur during periods of dawn, dusk, or night. (The number of accidents involving cyclists in low-light conditions that result in fatality is closer to 50%.)

Low Light Safety

Obviously dressing in dark clothing during periods of low light makes it more difficult to be seen. But does simply choosing light-colored clothing help? If you wear a white T-shirt instead of a black T-shirt, will drivers be better able to see you?

There are many products on the market that claim to help improve the chances that you will be seen at night. These options include fluorescent clothing and clothing with retro-reflective (or reflective) elements. Are all of the options marketed for "safety" equal in terms of effectiveness? If you want to maximize your chances of being seen (and safe) while walking in low light, what should you wear? What products work best and can help increase the chance that a pedestrian will be seen soon enough by a driver for an accident to be avoided?

Nighttime Clothing Testing

The new Be Seen After Dark—What Clothes Keep You Safe? project helps students explore and test questions about safety clothing. In this project, students test yellow clothing, yellow fluorescent clothing, and clothing with retro-reflective stripes to find out which ones really do improve visibility at night.

With the assistance of an adult in a stationary (parked) car, students test black clothing as the control and then test the effectiveness of other clothing choices at distances of 25 meters (m), 50 m, 100 m, and 150 m. (These distances are correlated with how quickly a driver can stop a vehicle, depending on the speed the car is moving.)

Which clothing will perform best?

Be Seen, Be Safe

With eye-opening results regarding how difficult it can be to see a pedestrian at night and how long it takes to stop a car to avoid an accident, this project can improve student safety and help students make smart, scientifically-sound decisions when preparing to be out in low light.

Resources to help students engineer public safety solutions are supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


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