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Physics

How does reflective clothing work?

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06/15/2012

Reflective clothing uses retroreflection to provide high visibility at night. Fabric is coated with special silvered inks; then prisms or beads are applied on top of these inks. When a light source shines on the fabric, the ink and the prisms reflect the light back to its source. If beads are used, the light is also concentrated, so it appears even brighter. An important characteristic of reflective clothing is that only viewers in the line of sight of the light source see the brightly illuminated fabric. In other words, the motorist whose headlights light up the person wearing reflective clothing will clearly see that person, but motorists travelling on unrelated routes will not. This means reflective clothing is defining, not distracting. Reflective clothing increases the safety of runners, pedestrians, bicyclists and road construction workers, as well as drivers, by providing motorists more time and distance to avoid collisions.