The clock is ticking for trailer retrofit

Fleets have just under a year to retrofit their older trailers so they meet federal conspicuity requirements. Under the ruling, which went into effect last year (6/99), trailers manufactured before December 1, 1993, must be outfitted with red and white retroreflective tape or reflex reflectors by June 1, 2001.

The rule covers trailers that have a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 lb. or more and are at least 80 in. wide, and applies only to those used in interstate commerce. Conspicuity tape must be applied to at least 50% of the length of both trailer sides and the full length of the rear of the trailer.

The only fleets exempt from the 2001 deadline are those that used tape that was not red and white when they voluntarily retrofitted their trailers for conspicuity before the ruling went into effect. These fleets have until June 1, 2009, to replace their current tape with the red and white colors mandated by the federal government.

The tape that meets the government's standards for nighttime conspicuity are manufactured by three companies: Avery Dennison, Reflexite and 3M. For retrofitting purposes, fleets can purchase retroreflective tape through lighting distributors such as Federal-Mogul's Signal Stat Div., Grote, Peterson Mfg. and Truck-Lite, which often market it under their own brand names. It can also be purchased directly from 3M and Avery Dennison's Reflective Div. Although there's variation in degree of retroreflectivity, tape made by these companies far exceeds federal requirements.

Durability counts Since fleets operate under tight profit margins, the durability of the tape, especially in harsh operating environments, is important. With the exception of Reflexite's Daybright brand, which has a three-year warranty and was developed for use on older trailers that won't be in service more than a few years, the conspicuity tapes made by Avery Dennison, Reflexite and 3M have seven-year warranties.

The red and white retroreflective tape from Avery Dennison is known as Series V-5720. According to the manufacturer, resistance to fading, yellowing and degradation is achieved through use of acrylics and a UV-absorbing top layer. The red tape is subsurface printed, which helps prevent scratching and the damage caused by power washing and other solvents. Product durability is also enhanced through the use of "aggressive" adhesives, so that the tape will stick to the vehicle surface for the life of the tape. The metallized construction of Avery Dennison's retroreflective material prevents water and dirt from seeping under the edges of the tape, since there are no open cells.

3M points out that the government's decision to require alternating red and white tape was based on the fact that red is a good contrasting color to white, and that U.S. drivers respond immediately to red, associating it with stopping, emergency, caution, etc.

Tape supplied by 3M is made from the company's Diamond Grade Conspicuity Sheeting, which has a candelas per lux (cpl) rating of 900. According to 3M, the high angularity content and diamond pattern of the product make it especially suitable for use in conspicuity materials. Angularity is important because all vehicles are not created equal in terms of headlight height. The light beams from subcompacts and SUVs, for example, shine on trailer tape at very different angles, yet both must be able to detect the trailer from a distance.

When retrofitting trailers for conspicuity, age and condition of the vehicle, what degree of nighttime visibility you want to achieve and personal preference for the tape's look during daytime hours can all be taken into consideration.

At 1,000 cpl, Reflexite's V82 premium tape provides maximum long-site detection at night. The metallized process used in creating the tape gives it a silver appearance during daytime hours. For fleets that would rather have a whiter daytime look to blend in with trailer sides, Reflexite developed V99 Daytime, which at 800 cpl still exceeds conspicuity requirements by a factor of three.

For older trailers where application of adhesive-backed tape may be difficult and time-consuming, Reflexite offers a Rivet-On style, in which the company's V82 premium tape is laminated onto coated aluminum. The relatively straightforward installation involves positioning the tape, drilling holes through the tape and trailer body, and putting drive rivets in place to secure it.