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Vehicle Visibility and Safety | Conspicuity Tapes

Collisions between heavy trucks and trailers with smaller, lighter vehicles can often result in severe injuries or even death to the occupants of the smaller vehicle. In many cases, these accidents may be the result of the heavy vehicle not being seen by the approaching motorist in time for the accident to be avoided, particularly in poor weather conditions or at night.

Extensive research in both the United States and Europe has shown a dramatic reduction in the frequency and intensity of such vehicle accidents with the use of retroreflective stripes and other markings that outline the contour of the vehicle.

A 2001 report by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration1, reported a reduction in a range of lighting conditions by 29 to 41 percent for side and rear impacts into trailers when retroreflective tape is fitted, while in dark conditions the tape reduced side and rear impacts that resulted in fatalities or injuries to drivers of any vehicle by 44 percent. However, the Australian Design Rules mandate a higher level of lighting and reflector requirements and as a result these benefits are illustrative only and may not be fully replicated in the Australian market.

A European report detailed 1984 Bavarian accident statistics, which highlighted the potential for contour markings to improve the visibility of the combination on road.

Potential for improved tuck visibility

European report (1984 Bavarian accident statistics) for truck/passenger car accidents with injured persons for “night time/twilight” where “recognition too late” or “no recognition at all”

The Australian 2015 NTI Major Accident Investigation Report found that “single vehicle accidents attributed to 71.8% of losses with the balance of 28.2% involving collisions with third party vehicles. In losses with third parties, not involving fatal injury, the NTI insured heavy vehicle was liable in 59.4% of cases. In collisions involving fatalities however, the truck was not at fault on 84% of occasions”. Further NTI Australian data highlights about 30% of multi vehicle crashes occur between 6 pm and 6 am overnight when traffic is at lightest and visibility is most critical. Data indicates that the vast majority of fatal accidents involving trucks and light vehicles are caused by the light vehicle. Where these accidents had resulted from a lack of truck visibility, it would be expected that there be a reduction in collisions for vehicles fitted with retro-reflective markings as experienced in the US and Europe.

In an effort to reduce accidents due to poor visibility, the ATA together with industry representatives, have developed a heavy vehicle visibility TAP, describing the methods by which increased vehicle visibility can be achieved. These requirements are based on European Regulation UN ECE R104 – “Uniform Provisions Concerning the Approval of Retro-Reflective Markings for Heavy and Long Vehicles and their Trailers”, which define the performance, placement and material specification of the markings.

Overall, the goods transportation sector has seen an improvement in the fatal crash rates for articulated vehicles. The chart below illustrates that over time there has been a decline in crashes (red line), but an almost double of the total articulated combinations in service (blue line), which has produced a huge reduction in the fatal crash rate (green line).

Fatal crash rate per articulated vehicle, 1982 - 2015

The risk of an accident between a truck and a car is 30 times greater when a truck does not have high visibility markings. A truck with outline reflective markings is recognised much earlier than an unmarked truck because they help to define the total size of the truck to other road users. This gives drivers more time to manoeuvre safely in traffic.

Contour markings

Contour markings on a heavy vehicle outlines the shape of the vehicle with retroreflective tape to give other road users visibility of the vehicle ahead and the ability to perceive their distance and closing rate. A full contour of the vehicle makes this visual perception easiest. Three levels of contour markings are acceptable:

Full contour – the preferred layout.

Reflective tape is applied as close as possible to the edge of the vehicle to form a continuous line depicting the outline of the vehicle. This provides maximum visibility to other road users and is best practice. This method must also be chosen if there are retro-reflective graphics on the side of the vehicle.

Partial contour

A single stripe of retro-reflective tape is applied along each side and rear of the body or trailer, with ‘L’ shape sections 0.5 m long in each corner.

Stripe marking

A single stripe of retro-reflective tape is applied along each side of the vehicle and body or trailer side, and a strip across the rear. This basic layout shall only apply to those vehicles that do not utilise retro-reflective graphics or logos or have limited structure onto which tape can be applied on the upper sections of the trailer.

Front of trailers

The UN ECE R104 does not require the forward face of the trailer to be marked, however, it is highly recommended if the trailer is regularly parked outside a secured depot, retroreflective tape should also be applied to the trailer’s forward face.

Key material requirements

It is recommended that the retro-reflective material used for contour markings and its colour be appropriate to the location, complying with the requirements of class 1A material as specified in the UN ECE R104 regulation. Additionally, tape incorporating the European E marking (see below), in accordance with Clause 5 of UN ECE R104, easily identifies that it is suitability for this application.


It is recommended to use tape compliant to UN ECE R104 with dimension of 50 +10− 0 mm.

• Select the colour of the tape appropriate to the location and surface type.

• Select class 1A material, which has typically been E Marked for quality purposes.

Key dimensional requirements

The total minimum length of the retro-reflective markings shall be at least 80 per cent of the combined length bumper to bumper (including the prime mover), and 80 percent of the width of the vehicle.

Where non-continuous stripes are used, the distance between single elements shall be as small as possible and should not exceed 50 per cent of the length of the shortest element. Such segments shall be evenly distributed.

The stripes shall be installed as close to parallel to the ground as possible, at a minimum height of 250 mm and a maximum height of 1.5 m from the ground. Where vehicle designs do not allow compliance with the 1.5 m maximum height, a 2.1 m maximum height is acceptable.


The recommended colours, listed above, have been selected to align with the typical lights used in the equivalent directions:-

• White (head lights) to the front

• Yellow (side marker lights) lights to the side

• Red (brake and stop lights) to the rear


• Refer to ADR 13/00 Installation of Lighting and Light Signalling Devices, ADR 47/00 Retroreflectors and Heavy Vehicle (Vehicle Standards) National Regulation for additional guidance. Noting that the National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL) for vehicle standards defers to the second or third edition ADR, if the HVNL is inconsistent with the ADR, regardless of whether or not the vehicle is required to comply with the requirement.

• Exempt vehicles, such as emergency and police vehicles, are not required to comply with this standard.

Applicability to vehicle types

It is recommend that high visibility markings, as detailed above, be fitted to all heavy goods vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) or Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) greater than 4.5 tonne. This is in line with the UN ECE R104 requirements.