When you ride, run or walk near traffic after the sun goes down, believing you know all the things that affect your safety and how to deal with them — when in fact you do not— can be fatal.

The purpose of this web site is to alert you to information that you and your family should know. Information that is seldom, if ever, taught in schools or elsewhere and, because of that, is often misunderstood.

Diffused Reflection

This is the reflection that fools you into believing motorists see you in the dark when they don’t see you! To experience how diffused reflection does this, see “Distance Test”.

Diffused reflection happens when light beams hit clothing, skin, hair, fur and other rough surfaces and scatter or diffuse. Only someone close to the diffused light sees it.

diffused light graphic
diffused light dog walking

Don’t be fooled by diffused reflection. You see yourself lit up like a Christmas tree; but drivers can’t see it until they are close enough. By then, they may not have time to miss you.

Mirror Reflection

Mirror reflection happens when a light beam hits glass or other shiny surface such as the chrome on bike rims and reflects away at the same angle at which it hits that surface. Only someone at the end of the angle sees it.

diffused light graphic
diffused light dog walking

This type of reflection can fool people into believing that motorists easily see anything that is bright or shiny in their headlights.


Retro-reflection occurs when light beams hit material containing tiny prisms or lenses that reflect those beams directly back to their source. There are over 45,000 of these tiny reflectors in one square inch of material and people don't know they exist because they can't see them.

This is the only reflection that drivers can see. Cloth and plastic materials that contain these tiny reflectors are used to make sew-on, iron-on and stick-on safety products.

diffused light graphic
diffused light dog walking

The easiest & fastest way to determine whether or not the material you depend on is retro-reflective is to test it. See the Test Page for instructions.

Micro-Lenses & Micro-Prisms

Micro-reflectors are so tiny they are invisible to the naked eye. That is why most people don’t know about them. However, you can see them under the 30X microscope used by most schools in science class. These illustrations show how they reflect headlight beams back to drivers.

micro lens micro prism

Test It Before You Trust It

Never assume that what you depend on so motorists will see you in their headlights is doing the job you think it does. Test it if you are not positive. The easiest and the fastest way to do this is to position the item at least 10m (30ft.) away and shine a flashlight on it.

Note: Light reflects back to its source, not to your eyes. So, to see the reflection the way drivers see it sitting behind their head-lights, make sure your eyes are directly behind your source of light as illustrated.

cartoon with flashlight

Distance Test.

Back in the l970s, tests conducted by scientists at Indiana State University revealed that people misjudge by 50% the distance from which approaching motorists can see them in their headlights. The tests involved vehicles, drivers, passengers and subjects stationed along lit and unlit thoroughfares. 1,700 observations were made to ensure the results were accurate. The average guess by the subjects was 104m (341 ft.). The average distance from which drivers and passengers actually saw them was less than half that, just 50m (164 ft.).

Why has this phenomenon remained hidden for so long? Unfortunately, no feasible way could be found to demonstrate those results and, human nature being what it is, people have to actually experience it before they will believe it. That problem has now been solved. This test lets you experience the same results, but on a smaller scale, in a matter of minutes using just a flashlight and a sample of retro-reflective material.

This test “proves” how diffused reflection fools you into believing motorists see you in the dark when in fact they do not.

night safety home test

1. Walk away from tester until he or she says, “I can’t see you.” (A)

2. At (A), turn, face tester and look down. You will see yourself lit up by diffused light even though the tester sees nothing.

3. Back away from (A) until you no longer see yourself illuminated (B). (A) to (B) is the “killer zone” because it is the area in which you think drivers see you — but drivers do not.

4. At (B), expose a retro-reflective sample and walk until the tester can no longer see it. Depending on the size of the sample you are testing, the distance from the tester to (C) could be 300m (1000 ft.) or more.

If you require free samples for testing and/or a “Distance Test Chart” to record your test results for different materials and colors, click here and make your request.

This material is protected by copyright and may not be duplicated or otherwise copied without the express permission of the author, Terry Smith. To obtain that permission, Contact Us.

How effective is colored clothing in the dark?

“Wear something white” has been standard safety advice for such a long time that nearly everyone believes it is all you need to attract a driver’s attention. If you want to discover just how ineffective it is, use white fabric in your distance test.

Reflective VS. Bright & Fluorescent Colours

The student in these pictures is on crutches with reflective stickers attached and is wearing a brightly coloured jacket, jeans & runners.

#1 shows bright colours barely attract the attention of drivers, even close up. Whereas #2 shows drivers can tell something is on or near the road ahead long before they even know it is a person.

So, if you want to be sure drivers see you in the dark, wear something that contains micro-reflectors. It is the only thing they can see in their headlights from a safe distance.

diffused light graphic

The following pictures illustrate the importance of wearing or using retro-reflective products.

micro lens micro prism

Community Education

Alerting complete communities to the information they should know about in this web site would go a long way in reducing traffic accidents after dark. In the past that would have been an impossible task. Using what you have learned in this web site, however, you are in a position to do something about it.

One way you can help is to tell the police, school teachers, youth groups and others in your community association about this site. A second way, if you belong to a fund raising group, is to combine education of the community with the fund raising opportunity described in www.flashback.ca

Who Needs Retro-Reflection
and Why?

Consumers generally place the need for these products into two categories:

  1. Traffic signs that guide drivers where they want to go. Without them it would be impossible to drive safely anywhere after dark.

  2. Gear and clothing worn and/or used by the police, firemen, paramedics and road crews who would not be able to do their jobs at night if their uniforms and gear did not reflect headlights

Most people overlook the fact that, whenever we walk, run or ride near traffic after dark, we also need something that will alert motorists to our presence.

And, don't overlook the fact that reflective safety products make ideal stocking stuffers at Christmas and perfect prizes for bicycle races & bike roadeos, community safety days and sporting events. Having something in your glove compartment in case your vehicle breaks down is also a good idea.

Product Sources

There is a wide range of retro-reflective products that consumers are unaware of. These include the following:

  1. Clothing such as vests, jogging suits, jackets, shoes and rain gear

  2. Personal accessories such as arm & leg bands, belts, ankle straps, sashes, Rear Minders (often called safety triangles) and heel reflectors.

  3. Pet and animal products such as dog leash sleeves, collars and vests.

  4. Bicycle accessories such as pin stripe, spoke reflectors, bike trim, pump straps and Flash Flags (often called side flags)

  5. Souvenirs such as Canadian and American flag stickers & magnets and novelty signs.

  6. Stickers such as Happy Faces, lightning bolts, diamonds & dots, dinosaurs, wildlife and Halloween pumpkins.

  7. Stick-on, iron-on & sew-on tapes and sheeting.

  8. Craft Kits.

Most retail outlets carry none of these products. Very few outlets carry any more than two or three of them.

Bike-up Canada Inc. carries over 90% of these products and is, in fact, the manufacturer of the Flash Flag, one of the most successful and highly recommended safety accessories on the market. For further information visit www.flashback.ca.

cycling flags

Use Of Material In This Web Site

This material is protected by copyright and may not be duplicated or otherwise copied without the express permission of the author, Terry Smith. To obtain that permission, click here.

All content is © Terry Smith
203 Pine Hill Drive, Kanata, ON CANADA K2M 2V1
1 613-254-9897