As winter approaches and the days get shorter and nights longer added attention needs to be paid to the clothing and equipment we wear. Not only should they be designed to keep us warm but they should also enhance walking safety by making us highly visible to traffic. Every wonder why road side workers wear florescent colored vest outlined with yellow or gray tape? It’s because it’s the best way to stay visible during the day and at night. The florescent material is ideal for daytime visibility while the yellow or gray reflective straps are critical at night. The day time sun’s ultraviolet rays react with florescent colors to make them appear to “glow”. At night, light from a source such as car headlights bounces off the reflective tape portions making them appear to “glow”.
Florescent Colored Material
Again florescent colors owe their increase visibility to the way they absorb and emit different kinds of light. Many different colors can be made fluorescent. The most popular are yellow and orange but red, pink and green can be used as well. In an industrial setting yellow and orange are most commonly found. Lifeboats have orange life jackets since this color shows up best against blue and gray water. Hunters use orange. Interestingly, some recommended that hunters wear pink, a color not found often in nature and as a result shows up well against autumn leaves. Good luck with that one. The color blue is not epically effective for fluorescent clothing. Its wavelength it is not good at emitting light and therefore the human eye is not good at detecting it. Florescent colors “glow” extremely well in bright sunshine and even work well on dull or rainy days and when daylight is fading. But fluorescent colors don’t show up well in the dark. To be seen by drivers at night you need clothing and/or equipment that incorporates materials that have reflective properties.
Reflective materials work at night by bouncing back the light toward its’ source. For reflective gear to work properly it needs to be dark and there must be a light source, car headlights for example. The best reflective materials are called ‘retro-reflective’ . They are designed to bounce most of the light back toward its source as opposed to some materials that reflect but do so in a diffuse manner. . Retro-Reflective materials can help drivers to see you three seconds sooner, which could be the difference between life or death. However reflective material are not epically effective during the day, at dusk or in inclement weather, unless of course it is fluorescent in color. Although reflective tape can sometimes glint in the sunlight, it really doesn’t show up properly until after dark.
There are two types of retro reflective materials. You may have seen silver gray bands. They are called glass bead tape. When light shines on them at night they shine a very bright white. The preferred reflective materials are made of special plastic vinyl with lots of tiny prism shapes sealed inside. These prisms bounce the light off one another and then straight back to the source. This material is called microprismatic retro-reflective tape. This tape is a bit expensive but is very long-lasting and can be made in many different colors and shapes and can even be made to generate a holographic effect.
Key Take Aways
The key take away here is that neither florescent nor reflective materials work all the time and in all conditions, therefore to maximize your visibility your equipment and clothing selections should incorporate elements of both. Avoid dark colors and select microprismatic reflective take whenever possible. When selecting your clothing and equipment it’s important to give high priority to walking safety issues. This is epically true this time of year when you’re more likely to be walking during dusk, in inclement weather or at night. Fashion and color coordination should not be an overriding concern…Remember Safety First.