Over the past ten years the state Road Police have handed out hundreds of thousands of reflectors to the public, yet the Road Traffic Safety Service (CSDD) still chalks up annual statistics showing that 40.6% of all 957 traffic accidents involving pedestrians in 2013 happened during the dark hours. A police inspector told LTV news program Panorāma Thursday that hopes for the smaller-sized reflectors were misplaced largely due to people’s reckless disregard for their own safety.
“There are people who have used them as toys, to decorate their Christmas trees with,” State Police inspector Aigars Tutiņš told Panorāma. “Now we’re talking about something much larger, reflective vests, that presumably nobody is going to be hanging in their Christmas trees,” he said.
The fine set by the amended regulations will start at €7.30 for anyone walking along an unilluminated or poorly-illuminated stretch of the road during the dark hours without signaling their presence as a pedestrian by wearing a reflective vest.
Residents expressed mixed feelings about the new reflective vests law. Many agree they are essential during the dark season on Latvia’s treacherous roadsides. Branka resident Valentīna admitted, “well, if they’re setting fines, I’ll have to wear one. But – how much does one cost?”
Fellow Branka resident Broņislavs Vucēns told Panorāma that the reflective vests would be a nuisance to carry around all season long.
“Say I go out, but don’t know when I’ll be coming back, after dark or not. Then I have to figure out where to pack the vest to take it along,” he complained, suggesting it would be sufficient for pedestrians to be required to walk against the flow of traffic on the left-hand side of the road.
Reflective vests are generally available at most department stores starting at a price around €3.50, but low-income residents will likely have access to free-of-charge vests that will be handed out during a planned awareness campaign before the new requirement goes into effect October 1. In addition to the requirement mandating the use of reflective vests, cyclists up to the age of 12 will be obliged to wear helmets and have their bikes equipped with proper lighting and reflectors.
On his part Transport Minister Anrijs Matīss pointed out that half of all fatalities on the road involve these least-protected participants in traffic.
“I’m sure every driver knows from experience how hard it is to notice pedestrians and bikers on rainy fall evenings along roads outside of inhabited areas, and they’ll agree that reflective vests are a way for them to protect and make themselves visible to drivers,” he said.