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Reflective Traffic Posts: One Answer to the Problem of Maintaining Public Safety

Reflective traffic posts play a vital role in preventing vehicle collisions.  The importance of their role will only increase in coming years due to the aging of the driving population. To ensure these important safety tools continue to perform as expected, it's important for local road crews to understand how to maintain the retro-reflectivity of these traffic posts.

Reflective Traffic Posts: A Growing Need

American society has changed in fundamental ways over the last several decades.  Nighttime driving was once relatively uncommon and motorists were, on the average, young to middle-aged.  The rise of the service industry, along with the growing commonality of non-traditional work schedules and older workers, means that more drivers than ever before are on the roads after sunset.  This creates a new set of challenges for public safety authorities, including the following:

  • Decline in the average motorist’s visual acuity.  As humans age, their eyes become less transparent, decreasing their sensitivity to light.  This is a special cause for concern when these drivers are on the road after dark, because many of them can no longer easily see approaching signs and signals.  This is especially true where there is an absence of reflective traffic posts.
  • A growing problem with fatigue-impaired motorists.  The demands of juggling work, family, and other commitments means Americans are working more and sleeping less.  Tired drivers are inattentive, slower to react to changes in road conditions, and more likely to react impulsively in unexpected situations.
  • Continuing economic development of most areas of the country is a mixed blessing.  While it provides people with enhanced opportunities, it can also strain local transportation infrastructure.  Larger numbers of people on the road at all times of the day means law enforcement resources are stretched almost to the breaking point.  At the same time, the need for safety measures like reflective traffic posts often outpaces the resources available to provide them, due to shrinking city budgets.  This problem is especially acute in rural and inner-city areas that have largely been left out of the expanding economy.

One way to combat these problems is to increase the visibility of signage.  This is where reflective traffic posts come into the picture.  Studies show that signs treated with a reflective material command drivers’ attention faster than other types of signs.  This gives drivers more time to adjust vehicle operation.  It also lessens the chances that motorists will disregard posted notices.

Even the best reflective traffic posts lose effectiveness, however, when allowed to degrade.  Forestalling or preventing this problem should be a high priority for maintenance crews.  Here is a four-step procedure for workers to follow:

  1. Inspect reflective traffic posts during evening hours on a regular basis.  Inspectors can determine a sign’s retro-reflective efficiency either by performing visual checks or by using a reflectometer.
  2. Clean signs with a non-abrasive, non-caustic solution as needed to remove built-up dirt, dust, and/or air pollution.  Refer to the manual provided by the sign manufacturer for specific products and procedures to use for this purpose.
  3. Replace reflective traffic posts when they fall below minimum standards.  This can be done on a sign-to-sign inspection basis or according to the manufacturer’s recommended replacement schedule.
  4. Install reflective traffic posts with added capabilities such as flashing beacons or LEDs.  This option becomes more feasible as the cost of signs with built-in solar panels and small, rechargeable storage batteries decreases.

Conclusion

Societal changes are creating new interesting challenges for public safety officials.  These factors are based on long-term social and economic trends that will not change anytime soon.  There is no single way to meet the demands imposed by these transformations.  However, reflective traffic posts can be one part of an effective overall strategy.