Sunday, January 04, 2009

No understanding of retro-reflective materials in the USA

The "cat's eye," originating in the UK in 1933, consists of two pairs of reflective glass spheres set into a white rubber dome, mounted in a cast iron housing. This is used to mark lane dividers on roads. The rubber housing has a fixed rubber wiper which cleans the glass each time someone drives over the dome, which sinks slightly into the road. In the US, Bott's Dots, used since 1966, do not have most of these features. Furthermore, in Western Europe colored glass (red normally, green for exits) are used on nearside lanes so that drivers do not go off the road, or exit in appropriate places. The US never seems to have understood the value of Cat's eyes. Furthermore, about 20 years ago, I worked with 3M, an American company, and the world's largest manufacturer of retro-reflective materials, such as ScotchBrite, or retroreflective paints. These are commonly used on road signs in Western Europe to make them visible at great distances at night. Research has proved that at night, even someone wearing white clothing is virtually invisible until the last moment to a car driver with headlights on, but the use of retroreflective clothing saves lives. Yet, this is rare in the US. Our research showed that this is linked to a perverse machismo. It is regarded as weak or cowardly to use such materials. Driving long distances at night it is obvious that use of retro-reflective materials would save lives and save money in the long run, yet it does not happen.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Interesting point about the cat's eyes.

Re retroflective clothing, I suspect that relatively few Europeans actually buy the stuff unless it's required by law: which I think it is, these days. You're supposed to keep some in the car in case of need.