Reflecting on the road to good visibility

 In Apparel, Identity, Insignia, News

Reflective visibility helps children be seen and gives drivers time to reactReflective visibility is key to road safety. That goes for vehicles and roads, as well as pedestrians and cyclists. Reflecting on quite a lot of critiques, the province of Ontario admitted the new blue license plate designs kind of missed that point. We see how design advances are making reflective visibility a game changer in pedestrian safety.

Designing for reflective visibility

Ontario's new license plates had reflective visibility design flawsHaving good contrast between text and background helps with readability. That is why dark lettering shows up on light backgrounds. Contrasting dark blue on a white background, Ontario’s old license plate design (top) had raised lettering. But the blue reflective paint was starting to peel off, and sometimes made the plates unreadable.

Reversing the colour scheme is a new design (bottom) for the province’s license plates. A dark blue background contrasts with white lettering. The new plates have special ‘retro-reflective’ paint.

A license plate must be readable any time of day or night, including by the new automated speed cameras being placed in high risk zones.

Trouble is, the reflective visibility on the new Ontario license plates does not work well at night. Glowing white letters are unreadable in certain light conditions. A Kingston Police officer was among the first to point this out. Admitting the design flaw, the Ontario government, stopped the rollout. Although 71,000 plates have already been issued, they will be replaced once the updated design is ready. The extra costs will be borne by the vendor, 3M Canada.

If you have a blue licence plate that was issued between February 1, 2020 and March 4, 2020, you can continue to use it. It does not pose a safety risk. If you currently have white embossed licence plates, you can continue to use them. –

New driverless shuttle glows with reflective visibility

Appearing vivid at night is critical for on fire trucks, EMS vehicles and school buses, where safety and visibility are key. Drivers see better with reflective painted lines and signs on our streets.

The use of retro-reflective materials in guiding road users and delineating roadways at night have been in use for over 70 years and is still a key part of the road safety infrastructure – Reducing the cost of road safety: Australasian Road Safety Research, Policing and Education Conference 2012.

3M reflective visibility design on MnDot shuttle

MnDot driverless shuttle, photo via 3M

The 3M Company is well known for creating different types of reflective tapes, paint and wraps. A new use of their reflective materials is on driverless vehicles. Testing of an autonomous shuttle project near Minneapolis is underway.

Using a reflective paint and pattern designed by 3M, the MnDOT shuttle has a black base with graphic wrap film in vibrant orange, blue and green. When light hits the shuttle’s exterior, bright colours light up like a road sign at night.

I used the reflective graphic wrap film, because I think reflectivity coincides with safety, and it seemed like a good way to relay that message,” Mike Welter, senior designer, 3M.

Transforming in reflective fashion

Reflective visibility of Christopher Bates shirt jacket from Spring 2020 collectionBeing seen day or night looks very fashionable to us. Reflective accents on running gear, shoes and anoraks is a trend we are happy  has stuck. Even more brands are looking for reflective visibility fabrics, tapes, zippers and accents. Designing reflective visibility is both a cool fashion element and a safety benefit we encourage.

This smart casual shirt jacket is by Canadian menswear designer, Christopher Bates – the same designer behind the latest Air Canada uniforms. Being water repellent, the thermal coated wool fabric has a dull shimmer during the day, and also transforms at night when whole shirt jacket glows.

Drivers react better with reflective visibility

This study shows reflective visibility protects younger pedestrians because of increased reaction time for a driver going 50 mph (80 km/hr):

A child pedestrian is visible at 30 meters with low beam headlights (1.3 seconds reaction time). A child pedestrian wearing a reflector is visible at 150 meters with low beam headlights (6.5 seconds reaction time). Pedestrian reflectors have been used successfully in Scandinavian/Nordic countries for over 30 years. —The importance of being seen in traffic, 2001.

Launching a “Decade of action on road safety” ten years ago, the United Nations joined others in a worldwide effort. The UN’s latest status report in 2018 showed there remains a lot left to do.

Road traffic injuries are currently the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5–29 years, signalling a need for a shift in the current child and adolescent health agenda which, to date, has largely neglected road safety. UN Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2018.

Emphasizing how important reflective visibility is for road markings, vehicle markings and license plates is key to improving road safety. Extending driver reaction time helps protect all pedestrians, especially children. Adding our own Be Alert child-friendly reflective patches to helmets, backpacks and jackets is one small way to help children be seen sooner. Ask us about customizing them.