2007 October 16

vest-exfordy.jpg Auto Express recently published the results of an experiment they carried out to test the effectiveness of high visibility vests – a bit of a misnomer that, as we’d called them waistcoats or jackets, ‘vest’ being the American term, but anyway …. 

They tested four roads, one lit by street lamps, the other three not. A person stood on the roadside as the testers drover past. For the first test he wore his street clothes; for the second a high visibility vest. A stopwatch recorded the gap between the driver spotting the ped­estrian and the vehicle reaching him – in other words, the driver’s reaction time. The pedestrian was relocated for each test so the driver couldn’t anticipate his position.  The results were shocking.  

Route one was a narrow, heavily wooded rural road with light but fast-moving traffic and no pavement or street lamps.  At 40mph, blinded by oncoming headlamps, the driver spotted the pedestrian only three seconds before reaching him. In reflective gear, the reaction time was more than tripled to eleven seconds meaning the reaction distance  was nearly quadrupled! 

The next story is even worse  – on a fast, unlit dual carriageway at 65mph, the pedestrian wasn’t spotted until two seconds before being passed – barely time to operate the stopwatch! The driver would never have avoided him had he stepped into the road but with the high visibility top, the time was seven seconds and the reaction distance was again virtually quadrupled.  Interestingly, in the third ‘unlit’ test – the only one carried out with headlamps on full beam – the differentials were smaller but the overall reaction times better. On a open A-road there was more opportunity to spot the pedestrian. At 40mph the figure was six seconds. With the high visibility clothing, sixteen seconds – over twice the time and about two-and-a-half times the viewing distance.   The final trial was on a busy, lit suburban A-road at 35mph. As you would expect, the pedestrian was spotted much sooner, without and with a vest. The reaction time was 25 seconds when the pedestrian had the vest on, so the driver even had time to pull over to help without endangering pedestrian, himself or other traffic. 

Perhaps it’s time for Britain to follow the lead of Spain, Italy and Portugal, and make it compulsory for drivers to carry high visibility vests and wear them in a breakdown?

Safety vests must be worn photograph by Exfordy, used under a creative commons attribution licence



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