January 17, 2018
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Vest Dressed for Safety makes nighttime less dangerous

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It is unbelievable how early darkness falls these days, and we are still more than a month away from ending daylight saving time. Worse than a reminder of the long nights and cold days ahead is the reduced visibility of pedestrians as daylight dwindles.

So often we hear that pedestrians — elderly and sometimes others — are hit by cars because the drivers cannot see them until it is too late.

This is a tragedy that can be prevented, not just by drivers slowing down and resisting the habit of practicing distracted driving — that means no eating, phone use, etc. — but also by pedestrians becoming more visible.

As is often the case, someone’s misfortune inspires others to a cause.

That’s what sparked Noelle Merrill, Eastern Area Agency on Aging executive director, to make Vest Dressed for Safety a reality.

“I read where someone was struck and killed by a car while crossing the road to get the mail,” said Merrill. “That’s when this idea that 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,” said Merrill. “As an agency, we are committed to the safety of every senior. We also advocate for them to remain independent and active. With daylight hours becoming fewer and fewer, people are out and about in the dark, when it is much more difficult for motorists to see them.”

As Maine is so rural, oftentimes there are no sidewalks, so people are forced to walk on the side of the road. Mailboxes may be across the road from their homes and the availability of street lights is iffy.

And for some seniors, hearing loss and changes in their peripheral vision may make it harder to hear or see a vehicle approaching, added Merrill.

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 200 vests. Though they were not designed specially for EAAA and have always been available through local retailers, Merrill thinks it will be easier for seniors to get them 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 for each vest to help cover our costs.

You may order one by sending a check for $10 to EAAA, 450 Essex St., Bangor, ME 04401, Attention: Vest Dressed for Safety.

Be sure to include both 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,” said Merrill.

Be safe, be seen. Get a vest.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.