Intersections controlled by traffic signals present significant dangers to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. In most cases, this is due to driver negligence and sight impairments:
To help reduce accidents at traffic signal-controlled intersections, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recommends taking steps to increase the visibility of traffic signals. The most effective way to accomplish this goal is by installing backplates on all of your traffic lights and framing those backplates with a highly visible retroreflective border.
Backplates help improve the visibility of the traffic light by providing a consistent background for the illuminated light. Fluorescent retroreflective borders make the traffic signal more conspicuous and visible to drivers in a range of conditions (night, day, rain, snow, etc.), which can help alert drivers to the upcoming signal. Increasing the conspicuity of your signals is particularly beneficial for older and color vision-deficient drivers. Fluorescent retroreflective borders also provide a visual cue that there is a stoplight-controlled intersection when the signals would otherwise be dark (e.g. during power outages).
Adding fluorescent retroreflective sheeting to your traffic signal backplates is a cost-effective way to improve visibility and road safety. According to the FHWA, the cost of adding retroreflectivity to your traffic lights ranges from “$35 for adding reflective tape to existing backplates to $56-110 for replacing the backplates with reflective material already incorporated.”¹
Studies show that the safety benefits of this low-cost strategy can be significant. In one example from Columbia, South Carolina, fluorescent yellow retroreflective borders were added to backplates at three intersections with high crash rates. After the retroreflective borders were installed, total crashes decreased by 29% and late night/early morning crashes decreased by 50%.² A different study in Kentucky showed that retroreflective borders on backplates reduced crashes by 19.6%, with a 44% reduction in angle crashes.³
These studies demonstrate the safety benefits of adding fluorescent retroreflective borders to traffic signal backplates. But it’s important to keep in mind that not all fluorescent retroreflective sheeting is created equal. To maximize the return on your investment and build safer intersections for all, it’s important to use fluorescent retroreflective sheeting that consistently and reliably increases visibility. Here are a few key characteristics to consider:
¹ Source: Intersection Proven Safety Countermeasure. (2018). Retrieved from https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/conventional/signalized/backplates/tech/sa1500701.cfm
² Source: Intersection Proven Safety Countermeasure. (2018). Retrieved from https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/conventional/signalized/backplates/tech/sa1500701.cfm
³ Source: Intersection Proven Safety Countermeasure. (2018). Retrieved from https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/conventional/signalized/backplates/tech/sa1500705.cfm
⁴ Source: Evaluation of Fluorescent Orange Signs, Texas Transportation Institute, TDOT, TX-00/2962-S, 2000