• Reflective Tape Regulations: What You Need To Know

    It’s safe to say that very few people give much thought about a roll of reflective tape. The truth is, reflective tapes are one of those unsung safetyUse this marking tape on your trailers or tractors. “heroes”, those materials that quietly help create a safer environment for almost everyone.

    Reflective material – and consequently reflective tape – was developed to enable objects to become visible at night or in low light situations. The ability of objects such as road signs, barriers, posts, and non-illuminated vehicles to be rendered “visible” at night has greatly decreased the likelihood these objects would figure in an accident.

    In fact, a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency under the United States Department of Transportation states that reflective tape can effectively reduce impacts into trailers by 29%. This report has, unsurprisingly, led to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA – the agency responsible for overseeing the safety of commercial vehicles) requiring large commercial vehicles such as trucks and tractor trailers be outfitted with reflective tape.

    Show Your (Reflective) Colors – and Size

    As you may know, reflective tape comes in many different colors. As per the FMCSA’s recommendations, the tape colors should only be red and white, or more specifically, the reflective tape should be alternating red and white sections. Also, the two segments should have a minimum of 12 inches in length plus or minus six inches. This would mean a range of six inches to eighteen inches. However, the tape should be trimmed if it would cause any form of obstruction.

    Besides the 2 colors, the reflective tape should only come in the following widths: 2 inches, 3 inches and 4 inches. Commercially, these tapes would be designated as DOT-C2 for the two inch wide tape, DOT-C3 for three inches, and DOT-C4 for the four inch wide variant.

    Marking Your Commercial Vehicles with Reflective Tape Ideal for marking stationary objects increasing nighttime visibility.

    It’s not just enough to randomly cover your commercial vehicle with retroreflective tape. Rather, the tape should be placed in locations on your truck or trailer where the material would be most effective. The FMCSA has determined these area to be on the sides of the trailer, the lower rear section of the trailer, the upper rear section of the trailer and the rear section of your truck.

    • Sides of the trailer – On the sides of your trailer, your reflective tape should be positioned as horizontally as possible, beginning and ending as close to the front and the rear as practically possible. The tape need not be continuous; rather you could have evenly spaced sections of tape. However, the sum of the length of your tape should be about half the length of the trailer.
    • Lower rear section of the trailer – The entire width of your trailer should be equipped with reflective tape. Position the marking tape as horizontally as you can, beginning and ending as close to the end edges as possible. Finally, the centerline for the strip of tape should be between 15 and 60 inches above the road surface when the trailer is empty, or as close to this measurement as possible.
    • Upper rear section of the trailer – This requirement is slightly different from the others in that the required tape color is white rather than an alternating red and white. Two pairs of reflective tape should be positioned horizontally and vertically on both right and left upper corners, as close to the edge as possible. The end result should be two inverted “L” tapes covering the two upper corners. If, however the trailer is doesn’t have any angles when viewed from behind, as with a tanker, the tape should be positioned as close as possible to the upper-most and outer-most perimeter on both the left and right sides.
    • Rear section of trucks – For trucks, reflective tape should be positioned as close as possible to the edges of mud flaps or their support brackets, or on the rear fenders. Tape should also be mounted on the upper contours of the truck’s cab, similar to how these would appear on the upper rear section of a trailer.

    Maintenance Equals Safety

    Remember, your reflective tape is only as effective as it is visible. Even if you invest in the right tape and install these in the proper manner as defined by the FMCSA, you should also take the time to clean them occasionally. This is to ensure your tapes do their jobs properly. Not to overly stress the point, but dirty reflective tapes won’t catch light properly leading to diminished visibility.

    To read more about the FMCSA’s rules regarding reflective tape, you could check out this link and refer to section S5.7. And if you want to read up on the effectiveness of retroreflective tape in preventing accidents, you could do so here. As always, stay safe on and off the road!


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