Schoolchildren in the UK usually have to wear very dark uniforms and sometimes even dark coats, as they make their way to and from school every day. It may look smart but it is not conducive to safe journeys to school.
This is also in strong contrast to other countries such as Holland where children wear what they want – often bright colours – on their way to school. In Germany, school bags featuring reflective, fluorescent trims help children to be seen as they walk or cycle.
Whether they are walking, cycling or just crossing the road after being dropped off in a car, here in the UK it can be hard to see our darkly clad children especially on misty, rainy mornings and again when daylight is fading.
On the other hand, adults who work at roadsides or in other vulnerable areas are provided with and have to wear high vis jackets for their health and safety. Look round any busy town centre or large event and you will be able to spot people wearing bright yellow or orange jackets as they go about their work; police officers, builders, lorry drivers, postal workers, supermarket trolley collectors and so on.
More and more cyclists, runners, horseriders and bikers are choosing to get kitted out in neon colours with reflective trims so they can be more easily seen by drivers whatever the conditions and whatever the time of day. Although ultimate responsibility must lie with drivers to look out and pay attention, wearing high vis can help them notice you.
In many European countries including France and Spain it is now a legal requirement to carry a high visibility waistcoat for every occupant in your vehicle in case of breakdown. In France anyone walking or cycling at night along an unlit road is obliged by law to wear a high vis waistcoat. Designer Karl Lagerfeld appeared in an advert for the French change in law regarding high vis waistcoats with the line: ‘It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it can save lives’.
So, many adults are keeping themselves bright – but what about our children? We can help them to be bright and seen too. It doesn’t have to be a yellow jacket but we need to at least help them understand why and when it’s good to be bright, how different materials help you and what the limitations are.
There are many ways you can help yourself and your children to be seen – different colours, products and designs – choose what suits your situation and tastes.
Now back to our UK school uniform: some coats, bags or shoes may feature reflective trims but these only work after dark. To be bright in daytime or near dawn or dusk (when children are going to or from school in winter) children need to wear or carry something fluorescent or brightly coloured. Reflective elements are good for schoolchildren whose journeys involve travelling after dark – for example if they leave late in winter from after-school clubs. ‘Fluorescent for day, reflective for night’ is the key message.
You may feel walking is an activity that shouldn’t require special equipment such as a high vis waistcoat… and we would agree for most situations. However if you or your children are out on an unlit street at night, especially in rural areas it can enable drivers to see you when crossing the road. In this situation a high vis waistcoat is a low-cost, effective solution as it gives you all-round brightness.
If you think ‘being bright’ is just about road safety, think again. Bright colours help teachers and group leaders to monitor their group and help keep them all together when out and about.
Getting children out of the classroom to learn in the real world is exciting and effective teaching; especially if you use public transport as that is an important life skill. A class trip on buses, trains or trams is much easier for teachers if they can easily see where their pupils are.
Over the last few years we have found high vis waistcoats for children have grown in popularity with schools – but more for helping with group monitoring on trips and on walking bus schemes than for road safety.
Back to being bright for road safety. A young driver was learning to drive. He was driving through a built up area and someone crossed the road in front. They were wearing dark clothes and he commented that they should be wearing something bright. The adult accompanying him replied: ‘You are the one in control of the hazard. You saw him because you were looking and concentrating. You didn’t hit him because you were driving within the speed limit. That’s more important than what he wears.’ High vis has a part to play in keeping us safe but we should never rely on it and as drivers we must always take care.