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Reflective Markings May Decrease First Responder Visibility

Posted: March 3, 2022

A new study suggests that the presence of very highly reflective markings may decrease drivers’ ability to see first responders working adjacent to their vehicles.

Traffic incident scenes are a dangerous place. Secondary crashes, including struck-by incidents, are a leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among emergency responders.

One significant variable impacting the safety of responders operating along a roadway is their visibility to approaching and passing motorists, especially at night. Warning lights and reflective materials on vehicles and clothing are typically employed at the scene to ensure visibility.

A new study from the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI), Effects of Emergency Vehicle Lighting Characteristics on Driver Perception and Behavior, investigated:

  • The impact of lighting color, intensity, modulation and flash rate on driver behavior while passing a traffic incident scene at night.
  • The impact of retroreflective chevron markings in combination with lighting configurations as well as any potential “moth-to-flame” effects of emergency lighting on drivers.

The findings were surprising. Although none of the variables tested had a significant effect on ratings of overall visibility of the road scene, some individual factors and combined factors yielded findings of interest warranting further research.

The results suggest that the presence of very highly reflective markings may decrease drivers' ability to see first responders working adjacent to their vehicles.

The ERSI, along with study sponsors U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and U.S. Department of Justice, encourages emergency responders, leaders, standards development organizations, and policy makers to read this study. Other research reports on this topic are available on the ERSI and USFA websites.

This article is based on content in the
March 3, 2022 InfoGram.

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