Put yourself behind this steering wheel. You're driving down a rural road in a rural Amish or Mennonite neighborhood at dawn, dusk or later. Suddenly, dark-clothed children or youth walking or bike-riding along the roadside pop out of the darkness, often within 50 feet. Your heart skips a beat as you realize the potential risk.
At 60 mph, your 1.5-second reaction time propels your vehicle 132 feet, reports Kay Moyer, Penn State Extension educator in Lancaster County, Pa. Even at 35 mph, a 3.4-second reaction time carries you 138 feet. With highly reflective materials, visibility
Children less than 10 years old haven't yet developed side vision, points out this registered nurse and safety expert. They have difficulty judging speed and distance.
They assume drivers will see them, especially if the vehicle lights shine on them. "But we don't always see them," stresses Moyer. "Many times, my husband and I pass a walker at night, only realizing that person was there after driving by them."
"First- and second-graders are very short and close to the ground," she adds. "That makes them even more difficult to see, especially by drivers in SUVs and trucks."
A vested challenge
Last year, after calls from parents and teachers, Moyer focused her "Farm and Home Anabaptist Safety Program" on road safety. With help from the Anabaptist community, she came up with a solution: Highly reflective safety tape mounted on mesh vests. Reflective tape can be seen up to 500 feet away.
Only one problem: She quickly discovered reflective safety vests were available only during hunting season and only in adult sizes.
"Only three websites sold well-made child safety vests with sufficient reflective tape – at $15 per vest plus shipping," she recalls. "So child safety vests weren't locally accessible for Anabaptist families. And the cost would be prohibitive for large family to have a vest."
With seed money from Cargill Animal Nutrition, at Lebanon, Pa., and much website price-shopping, Moyer connected with Reflective Solutions Americas at New Britain, Conn. The company donated more than $10,000 of reflective tape.
"After talking with Amish friends about getting child safety vests, we ended up buying the materials and sewing the vests," says Moyer. All vests are sewn by youths and adults.
Members of the Anabaptist community and two retirement centers make small, medium and large-sized student vests of lime-green or yellow-green mesh. Reflective tape is sewn on the front and back with Velcro closures. Elastic attached to the sides accommodates backpacks and coats.
As of this spring, more than 2,300 vests have been given out. Most of the children who received a vest are wearing them for school and during summer as well, says Moyer.