“The driver of the family sedan did not see the truck approaching prior to the fatal crash that occurred overnight, the 47 year old male driver of the passenger vehicle and his 13 year old son, along with the 59 year old truck driver all died of multiple injuries at the scene.” Sadly, this is something we hear and see far too often broadcast over the airwaves. Compromised night vision, fatigue and impaired drivers all contribute to making driving at night more dangerous than at any other time of the day. In 2017, 40% of fatal collisions in Australia, 445 lives lost, occurred in the hours of darkness1, despite the fact that there is typically less traffic on the roads. A contributing factor to these roadway casualties is the poor visibility of vehicles.
Passenger vehicles, light trucks, vans and heavy vehicles all share our roadways as we go about our daily commute on a variety of roads. From congested city roads through to rural roads, in a variety of weather conditions, driving can be an arduous task. Trucks, trailers and other large vehicles stand out during the day, however when it’s dark outside and visibility is reduced, driving can be difficult. Consequently, drivers may struggle to see vehicles in front of them, especially larger vehicles or those that have stopped. The poor visibility is compounded when driving on high-speed or rural roads, with unexpected twists and turns that are typically not fully illuminated by street lighting.
Heavy trucks account for only 2.4% of registered vehicles on our roads, yet they are involved in 16% of all road fatalities. Approximately 60% of persons killed in heavy truck crashes are light vehicle occupants, with another 20 per cent being vulnerable road users (motorcyclists, pedal cyclists or pedestrians)2. With a high majority of these incidents occurring at night when our ability to perceive and judge distance is severely impaired, how do we keep ourselves and those around us safe? In fact, the visual capacity of the human eye at night is only 5% of its visual capacity during the day, so even large objects such as heavy vehicles become hard to see3.
An estimated 90 percent of all driver decisions are made based on what we see. While our eyes are capable of seeing in limited light, the combination of headlights and road lights with the darkness beyond, can hamper our vision and make it difficult to identify and recognise other vehicles. In these conditions the risk of an accident between a truck and a car is significantly greater.
On the road, driver safety starts with visibility, this is where vehicle conspicuity plays an integral role on our roads. What is conspicuity? By definition it is the act of being easily seen or noticed; readily visible or observable. Conspicuity, also referred to as retroreflective markings, is a simple cost effective intervention that can have a significant impact on road safety. Studies have concluded that substantial reductions could be achieved in side and rear truck impacts with the use of such markings on those assets. Visibility of these trucks is especially exacerbated at night and in poor conditions such as rain, fog, dusk and dawn, when lighting is poor. The use of retroreflective tape under such conditions reduced overall rear collisions by 41% and 37% for side collisions4.
Over the last 15 years several large-scale experiments have been conducted to correlate the various safety benefits of retroreflective markings. The results comparing the accident rates of marked versus unmarked trucks showed a definitive reduction in the number of accidents. In fact, it has been shown that 95% of night time accidents could have been avoided if trucks were fitted with retroreflective visibility markings5.
In the dark, drivers may not see the trailer of a turning truck until it’s too late. The images below show a car at night approaching a truck at various distances. The truck on the left is unmarked and the truck on the right is marked with retroreflective markings. The truck that is marked is clearly visible at all distances, giving the driver more critical time to slow down.
Vehicles that can be easily seen on and around the road by other drivers can significantly improve road and vehicle safety. The risk of an accident between a truck and a car is 30 times greater when a truck does not have high visibility vehicle markings. A truck with outline reflective markings is recognised earlier than an unmarked truck because they help to define the total size of the truck to other road users. This gives other drivers more time to react and manoeuvre safely in traffic.
3M pioneered the development of retroreflective sign sheeting over 75 years ago and continues to meet today’s requirements to make our roadways safer. Long-standing scientific collaboration on microprismatic markings has produced traffic safety products that help you see clearly when it matters, making your vehicles highly visible in the dark. Used worldwide on heavy vehicles, commercial fleets, and emergency vehicles 3M™ Diamond Grade™ Conspicuity Markings help advance road safety at all hours. It’s a best practice that is recognised by leading authorities, including the UN. Bright vehicle markings give drivers the information they need to make quick, accurate decisions. The high reflectivity and wide angularity, along with the vivid colours help ensure superior brightness and increase safety so that trucks and trailers are visible at all hours from dusk to dawn, in inclemental weather conditions and when parked on the side of the road.
3M is dedicated to improving traffic safety and mobility on a global level by offering a portfolio of products to help get everyone home safely. Contact a 3M Road Safety Specialist for more information or explore our 3M™ Diamond Grade™ Conspicuity Reflective Technology brochure.
1. Road Deaths Australia June 2018: Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities - Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics - .
2. Heavy truck safety: crash analysis and trends Information Sheet 78: Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities - Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics..
3. Conspicuity of Heavy Goods Vehicles. TUV Rheinland Group, Contract Number: SER B27020B-E3-2003-Conspicuity-SO7.28185, 22 December, 2004
4. Contour Markings of Vehicles Final Report FO76/00. Schmidt-Clausen, 2000 Darmstadt University of Technology.
5. Prof. Dr. –Ing. H.-J.Schmidt-Clausen, Laboratory of Lighting Technology, Darmstadt University of Technology: Contour Marking of Vehicles, Final Report FO 76/00.