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3M Wants Nighttime Athletes to be Seen and Safe

3M Scotchlite

The ever-growing popularity of running, from themed races such as The Color Run and the Disney Princess Half, to local clubs infused with camaraderie, like Run & Chug, which involves legging it to a bar for beers, hasn’t just helped activewear sales. It’s also boosted business for 3M.

The Scotch tape maker has seen an uptick in sales of its reflective material, dubbed Scotchlite, in recent years, according to engineer Shari Franklin Smith. “It kind of fluctuates whether it’s used more on the shoes or the clothes, but the amount of clothing has been increasing,” she said.

With one pedestrian being hit and killed by a car every 109 minutes in the U.S., as per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, people who run, walk or cycle at night need to wear something that will help them stand out. And Scotchlite, which has been around since the 1930s and is also used to make road signs visible at night, has been embraced by apparel designers of late.

Mike Cherman, founder of ICNY Sport, was wearing dark clothes one night when he was hit by an SUV. The unfortunate incident prompted him to design fashionable yet functional clothing and accessories that feature Scotchlite on key areas.

It’s Smith and her team that suggest where those key areas are.

“We try to teach them that reflective rings around your ankles and around your wrists, or a body band on your torso, are areas that are more likely to be seen and recognized as a person by a driver,” she explained, noting that she does occasionally get pushback from designers, but that they usually realize the error of their ways during a nighttime demonstration. “Sometimes people want to have it where they want it. We don’t argue with them. We let them put those garments out on the site and then they can see for themselves. A lot of times that’s the best way to get people to change it.”

Here’s the science behind Scotchlite: when light from a car’s headlights hit the reflective material, thousands of embedded microscopic glass beads send that light bouncing back to the source during a process called retroreflection.

“At its very simplest level it works by reflecting light back to the driver’s eye,” Smith said, likening it to a mirror. “The light is hitting that surface and it’s returning it back to where it came from.”