For a long time our survival in the dark was linked to the light of the motorcycle headlights and to those thin reflex tapes applied to most of the garments we wear, known as rat tails: from boots to gloves, naturally passing through jackets and trousers, everything can be decorated with reflective inserts. And we didn’t use the word decoration by chance, because in the lack of regulation that regulates the visibility of the motorcyclist, the contribution of the manufacturers risks being mere decoration. Each company is free to determine the level of refraction to be spread on its products, without any rules to follow. And in Italy if a theme is not in fashion it is not developed. The Nordic countries, mainly due to limiting weather conditions (fog, rain, etc.) and light, are more sensitive on the subject. On English roads, for example, it’s much easier for motorcyclists coated with reflective bands. A New Zealand study which took into consideration hundreds of cases of motorcyclists involved in road accidents as well as reminding us that most of them occur in cities at 50 km/h, reveals that motorcyclists who wear reflex or fluorescent clothing have the 37% less chance of getting into an accident; those who use a white helmet instead of black 24% less; and, again, those who use light and non-dark helmets 19%. According to studies carried out by 3M on the visibility of pedestrians on the road, a pedestrian wearing dark clothing is visible to a motorist driving with low beams from 20 metres, a space which does not allow braking in time and therefore avoiding impact; the same pedestrian dressed in light-colored clothing can be seen from 50 meters. Finally the same though dressed in black but equipped with reflective inserts can be seen from 150 meters. Other research adds that with fluorescent garments you are visible from 70 m. 3M Scotchlite reflective materials work on a principle that does not exist in nature whereby they reflect light back to its source. They are made up of glass spheres “invented” for safety purposes in the 1920s, by observing the eyes of felines which, at night, reflect the light of car headlights. A reflective surface as much as a rear-view mirror or a headlight lens will have lower performance if dirty, therefore it is advisable to follow some advice to lengthen its effectiveness and therefore also its life. Among the police forces firefighters are the most attentive users of high visibility clothing and their uniform is the only one to comply with a standard, EN 471, which establishes the requirements for clothing capable of “signaling the presence of the user, in dangerous situations in any daylight condition and in the light of the headlights of vehicles in the dark”. More simply, it prescribes how much reflective material must be present, but also how much fluorescent background material, because a high visibility garment must also be fluorescent during the day, also because our vision works by contrast. Reflectance and fluorescence are not two synonyms, so much so that they indicate two completely different ways of “illuminating”: in the first case, the light incident on the surface of a retroreflecting film is sent back to its source (for example the headlights of a car), in the second case we are faced with the property of some substances (such as certain fluorescent pigments with which firemen’s clothing or motorists’ vests are colored) to absorb ultraviolet light and emit it in the visible spectrum, allowing a “luminance” even during the day. In practice they are brighter. The standard also establishes where the reflex material must be applied. By applying bands on the sleeves, for example, the motorist understands that in front of him there is a person who is moving, and not an object. Firefighters have also developed technical standards linked to their activity which require the leader to have particular qualities of resistance to heat and flame. “Ad hoc legislation should be made for motorcyclists – tells us a technician from 3M, a leading company in the production of reflective materials – but in the working group that deals with motorcycle clothing at UNI, there is no mention of luminosity. Several attempts have been made in this direction but without success. Perhaps also because the producers know that the end user would not be willing to spend a few euros more to have a more visible garment. It would be necessary to establish minimum requirements also for your clothing, which may not even fully comply with the AT 471. Manufacturers could decide, for example, that the bands should be less than the required 5cm, then consult with the high visibility group, of which 3M is a part, to agree on acceptable standards. But for now there are no inputs in this sense”. The American multinational has been involved in visibility since the 1930s, when it did not yet concern fabrics but road signs, for which it began to study the problems related to the perception of signage (inclination, distance, colours, etc.) by the motorist and, today, the motorcyclist who, with respect to the operating principle of reflective materials, is less disadvantaged, as the angle of observation, formed between the motorcycle headlights, the signal and the rider’s eyes is smaller. The spread of SUVs has raised the seat of motorists away from the beam of light produced by the headlights; moreover, the diffusion of gas discharge lights, such as xenon ones, which produce a light concentrated on the road and less on everything that is detached from it, complicates perception. How do you maintain reflective materials? For clothing, the same rules apply as for motorcycles: plastics, metals, paints and fabrics do not like intensive treatments, such as high pressure, high washing temperatures or aggressive detergents, both basic (normal detergents) and with an acid component (some whiteners, bleach). Any normal product for cleaning painted surfaces or detergent for sportswear or the classic Marseille soap can be used for cleaning. Washing can take place both dry and in the washing machine, but in this second case it is important that the drum is full. On average, the reflective material can last from 10 to 40 washing cycles. To be sure you’re not making a mistake, help yourself by reading the labels. It should be known, however, that the high-quality reflective inserts used without distinction in motorcycle clothing or in law enforcement uniforms, in order to obtain the necessary approvals, must pass many tests, including those of resistance to abrasion, washing, all aging and maintaining minimal performance even when dirty.