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Running
March 2014

How reflective keeps runners safe

By JOHLETTE DE JAGER*

For most runners, their daily programmes and job obligations force them to jog early morning or late afternoon. Both periods of the day unfortunately pose the challenge of being visible to other road users. In more than 80% of accidents involving runners in lowlight conditions, the driver expressed shock that he or she only became aware of the runner on impact — when it was already too late to do anything about it.

Almost everybody wants to look good in their running clothes and dark clothing is generally more flattering … which explains why many runners do not seem to realise the importance of hi-visibility clothing. The dressing behaviour of runners do, however, change after a near accident or the loss of a buddy in an accident in lowlight conditions.

Fortunately, the major athletic brands have incorporated reflective in their gear, which made runners more aware of reflective. It has also made the concept more acceptable.

Reflective piping, strips in various formats, heat transfers, sew-on embossed badges — all can be applied in such a way so that it can be a true lifesaving feature. A manufacturer incorporating reflective should use products with high candela counts, suitable for multiple washing cycles, which are light and durable.

Any reflective is better than no reflective. The application of reflective has, however, unfortunately not always been done effectively. High visibility items need a certain amount of reflective per square meter on apparel to make the wearer fully visible. High visibility colours like the well-known lime-yellow and orange are only day glow and add no value to visibility at night. Tops or shorts need good standard silver reflective to be visible in darker periods i.e. after dusk and before dawn.

A little reflective is better than nothing, but the larger the reflective strips, or areas covered with reflective, the better. The ideal is for the runner to be 360° visible — so that it does not matter from which angle the vehicle approaches him or her. That means that the reflective ideally needs to be applied 360°around the garment. This will ensure that the runner is seen from all sides and as far away as a kilometer in the light of a car. Nowadays, there are various attractive options to make runners visible in lowlight and dark conditions — and at the same time still enable them to express individuality through their running gear.

  • The starting point is to incorporate the reflective on those items the runner cannot go without — for instance, running tops or shorts, or shoes. This is a classic example of “passive prevention”. The runner will be visible, without having to add anything special to their gear, such as a running belt, wristband, headgear or gloves.
  • Hi-viz or neon bright tops or T-shirts and shorts ensure the wearer can easily be seen before daybreak/dawn and dusk — those in-between periods of night and day when the effectiveness of reflective materials and car headlamps start to wane — when the brightness of the neon colour garments become vital. In the dark, these colours will, however, only be visible when combined with reflective.
  • Bright coloured socks add visibility — although very few sock manufactur- ers add reflective as a trim.
  • Running shoes have reflective piping incorporated in the shoe designs, or added as a functional item, such as a pull-on strap in reflective. Other reflective items can be done in logos, laces, or heat-applied designs.
  • Reflective armbands are a great way to add more visibility to running outfits and the movement of the arms attract attention while running.
  • Reflective running belts are excellent as they ensure 360° visibility in the light of a car.
  • Hi-visibility neon or day-glow yellow or orange caps or hats with reflective detail all around the brim, or sides of a cap, can incorporate 360° reflective — which can be a very economical way to add reflective.
  • Reflective running gloves — the up and down movement of the hands makes it very easy for a driver to spot movement.
  • Headlamps and torches enable motorists to see an approaching runner, but often not from the back. LED flashing lights that clip on are better for walking the dog, than running as too much bumping around may cause them to go off from time to time.

Nowadays, hi-visibility day-glow colours, reflective trims and materials, as well as glow-in-the-dark, are used together as mountain bikers doing night rides in unlit areas need the glow-in-the-dark trims as safety feature too.

*Johlette de Jager became concerned about the number of pedestrian deaths in low-visibility conditions when working at the Medical Research Council. Research showed that in Europe the use of reflective reduced the danger. She then became co-founder of Glow Gear, a South African manufacturer of reflective products.


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