SENIOR BEAT

Be seen after dark: Get a vest

Posted Nov. 07, 2011, at 9:20 p.m.

Now that daylight saving time has ended, darkness is falling very early. Worse than a reminder of the long nights and cold days ahead, is the reduced visibility of drivers when it comes to pedestrians.

Seems every year we hear of elderly and sometimes others being hit by cars because the motorists simply cannot see them until it’s too late. This is a tragedy that can be prevented, not just by drivers slowing down and resisting practicing distracted driving — no food, phones, etc. — but also by the pedestrians being more visible.

“I read where someone was struck and killed by a car while crossing the road to get the mail,” said Noelle Merrill, executive director of Eastern Area Agency on Aging. “That’s when the idea of providing seniors with reflective vests, which had been mulling in my head, came to life.”

Merrill, a devoted runner who is often pounding the pavement in less than perfect light, dons her highly reflective vest as avidly as her running shoes.

Eastern Area Agency on Aging’s Vest Dressed for Safety program makes reflective vests available to senior citizens to increase their visibility.

“As an agency, we are committed to the safety of every senior,” said Merrill. “We also advocate for them to remain independent and active. With daylight hours so short now, people are out and about in the dark, when it is much more difficult for motorists to see them.”

As Maine is so rural, often there are no sidewalks so people are forced to walk on the side of the road, mailboxes can be across the road from their homes and the availability of street lights is iffy. And for some seniors, hearing loss and changes in peripheral vision may make it harder for them to hear or see a vehicle approaching, Merrill said.

Wearing a reflective vest, which can make a person visible hundreds of feet away, gives a motorist plenty of time to maneuver safely and, it is hoped, avoid hitting a pedestrian. Since the program’s inception a few years ago, EAAA has distributed more than 400 vests. Although these are not designed specifically for EAAA and reflective vests have always been available through local retailers, Merrill thinks it will be easier for seniors to get one from EAAA instead of shopping around.

“If getting a vest becomes complicated, with going from store to store, people may not bother,” said Merrill. “EAAA wants to make safety easy for them. And we want seniors to get into the habit of wearing a reflective vest whenever they are out and about — day and night.” The vests are lightweight and “senior-friendly,” she added. They have front and back panels each with two reflective stripes. Elastic connects the sides and they fasten with Velcro, which is helpful to seniors with arthritic hands.

So don’t curse the darkness, as an ancient Chinese proverb advises, just be ready for it. Get your vest today and venture out with confidence. We ask for a $10 donation to help cover our costs. Send a check for $10 to EAAA, 450 Essex St., Bangor, ME 04401, Attention: Vest Dressed for Safety. Be sure to include your mailing address and size: S/M, L/XL or 2XL/3XL, and we will send your vest to you. One hundred percent of your donation goes toward the cost of the vest.

“And we never want anyone going without a vest due to finances so we have sponsorships available for those who may not be able to afford to pay the 10 dollars,” said Merrill.

Be safe, be seen. Get a vest.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at EAAA. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email info@eaaa.org or visit http://www.EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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