Have you ever found yourself in a broken-down vehicle by the side of the road, waiting helplessly as traffic zips past you at speeds fast enough to make your car—and you—shudder? Or as a driver, were you startled by the presence of a hard-to-see disabled vehicle parked on the shoulder or even partially blocking the roadway? I bet you have. Although the standard advice is to get out and place flares or little safety triangles on the roadway to alert others of our presence, your chances of getting struck by a passing vehicle when you’re outside your vehicle are very high. But, I recently discovered an ingeniously simple invention that that solves this visibility problem without endangering lives. Here, I interview the co-inventor of SafetySock®, Dr. Bradford Lyau.
Biography: Dr. Bradford Lyau has been in the business world for over 25 years. He has worked in a succession of start-up companies in Silicon Valley, involved in products ranging from search engines to security algorithms. In New Mexico, he contracted with the Department of Energy on the technology transfer of state-of-the-art engineering to small businesses. Before entering the business sector, he taught at several colleges and universities in California and Europe as a history professor, during which he wrote a book on post-World War II France as well as various articles. He holds a BA degree from UC Berkeley, an MBA from the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Business, and MA and PhD degrees in history from the University of Chicago.
ML: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
BL: A former educator and author, I am now a co-owner of Globosocks LLC. Together with my business partner, Gregory Webb, we created, established, and organized the company. We designed our new piece of vehicle safety equipment, SafetySock®, patented it, identified manufacturers, and built a nationwide manufacturer network. Our SafetySock® was formally launched at the start of 2017 with both us striving to spread awareness of it, whether in the commercial, nonprofit, or public sectors. We’re active members of the American Traffic Safety Services Association across multiple state chapters and also members of the Road to Zero Coalition. My particular role spearheads reviews, market trends, and academic research centered on data related to work-zone and teen-driver safety. My business partner has primarily focused on government affairs on all levels of government, as well as cultivating other partnerships and managing the company.
ML: How did you get interested in creating Globosocks? After all, most kids don’t think, “When I grow up, I want to be a road safety equipment specialist.”
BL: Both my partner and I were touring South Africa during the summer of 2010 after we managed to secure tickets to the final match of the World Cup in Johannesburg. There we noticed nylon reproductions of flags of the 32 nations participating in the World Cup wrapped around the side mirrors of vehicles. So, pick your country, buy the mirror sock of its flag, and proudly display it while driving. These mirror socks did not cover the mirror itself.
Neither of us had ever seen this type of marketing in the States, and so began the kernel of an idea that eventually resulted in our company. Instead of repeating exactly the same product that we’d seen in South Africa, we sought a new approach by using this type of material to market companies and raise money for schools as fundraisers. Having taught at the high school and university level, I thought we should focus on something to do with these age groups.
We both are concerned about community affairs as both of our backgrounds involve serving the community. For me personally, two of my fellow high school graduates died in vehicle crashes before our one-year anniversary. Meanwhile, Gregory’s brother works for the New Mexico Water Authority and is on the road daily, observing how easily and quickly hazardous situations can occur. As Greg and I delved further into data around road/driver safety, lightbulbs popped above our heads, and our SafetySock® was born.
ML: And exactly what is the SafetySock®?
BL: Now came the hard part—making the SafetySock® a reality. I wish I could say that we imagined it in its final form in 30 seconds, but it took us two years to come up with what you see as the final SafetySock®. We conducted research, looked at data from many sources, met with risk managers and construction crews, and communicated with first responders, public utility personnel, government officials, teen driving school instructors, and ordinary people on the street to see what could be developed to address a need that we believe is a public health issue, given the staggering statistics of roadside safety.
Then we researched materials and production facility options. By design, the SafetySock® is constructed of the same industry-standard reflective material as the safety vests that transportation workers wear in work zones. We kept in mind three basic concepts: easy to store, easy to use, easy to see.
It’s important to recognize that while drivers often have emergency roadside kits in their vehicles, they tend to be stored in the trunk. Research indicates that it is safest for the driver to remain inside the vehicle and not have to get out. Thus, we designed SafetySock® to be easily stored in the glove compartment, in the center console, or even in the cupholder/water bottle space on many door panels.
In looking at how driver behavior is formed, we recognized from meeting with driving school instructors that new drivers are taught to do three things if they find themselves with car trouble. First, pull over on the side of the road (if there is a shoulder—and we can debate as to whether American infrastructure has kept up with the concept of a shoulder, as many rural areas do not even have them). The second step is for the driver to put on their hazard lights (assuming there is enough battery life to last for a long period of time). The third step is to call for help.
We firmly support these steps, but we’ve also been working to integrate an added step of simply pulling out the SafetySock®, rolling down the window, and slipping the SafetySock® over the side mirror to draw attention to the fact that the vehicle is disabled and on the roadside.
We have also been working with 360/Circle of Safety programs for crews in work zones. In this case, the SafetySock® is deployed slightly differently as part of their normal safety protocols. The SafetySock® serves not only as added visibility but also a reminder to conduct the 360-degree walkaround their vehicles before exiting the work zone.
Other uses have been to support Move Over laws, DUI stops by law enforcement, and by semi truck drivers when pulling over for mandatory rest breaks—all while increasing the visibility of their vehicles on the roadside. Quite frankly, there are many uses for the SafetySock®!
ML: A usability question: Your video on your website shows how easily the Sock can be slipped on and off the exterior mirrors. What keeps them from blowing off in very windy conditions?
When you receive our sample, you will notice a tightening device around the edge. Just pull the drawstring and it will tighten around the side mirror in both the car/SUV and large truck versions. The industrial version uses Velcro. Each technical aspect has been developed to make it as easy and convenient to use as possible. Additionally, the hanging flag portion acts as both a visibility enhancer and a substitute for a person waving a warning flag when the wind blows.
ML: As you know, target fixation is a major problem with roadside emergencies. But, for precisely the same reason that you created the SafetySock®, isn’t there a danger that someone could visually fixate on the bright yellow Sock, causing them to steer right toward the vehicle you want them to avoid?
BL: Studies have shown that bright objects do not necessarily and automatically attract oncoming drivers to them like moths to a flame, or else why would every state require increased visibility for vehicles in work zones or crash sites? The FEMA Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study details the effectiveness of high-visibility markings on vehicle, and we have extended this understanding to our SafetySock®. We believe that our technology will improve the visibility of vehicles on the roadside, help keep people safe, and ultimately save lives.
ML: Who is your ideal client? What audiences have you targeted so far?
BL: Any driver is an ideal client and user of the SafetySock®. Roadside safety is a major concern and should be a public health issue, given that an astounding 50 percent of teen drivers will be involved in some sort of crash before they graduate high school. Too many people die or get injured while either working or awaiting help along roadsides. Both new and older drivers are being taught to remain in their vehicles and to call for help during breakdowns or crashes, and they are certainly at the top of our priority list for targeted users. Equally important is the fact that road work zone crashes continue to soar. Research indicates that every four minutes there is a work zone crash in the United States and every week there are 15 fatalities (a total of 799 in 2017 alone, according to the FHWA).
So, we hope to be part of the road safety solution. After all, everyone needs to be protected while trying to resolve their situation.
ML: What has the reception been to SafetySock® so far?
BL: So far, it’s has been very positive. Most express surprise at the simplicity of concept while wondering why it hasn’t been thought of earlier. These responses have come from work-zone–related industries and driver education organizations. Our big challenge has been making people aware of not only the scary statistics but also our contribution to road safety. For example, when we look at the recent annual statistics from traffic crashes from the National Safety Council, we can put forth a number of fatalities that would exceed that number resulting from a jumbo jet crash a week—and every week, all year around. If that number existed in the air traffic industry, there would be a huge public outcry and the recognition that traffic safety is in fact a public health crisis.
ML: Do you have any data yet on how well your product works?
BL: SafetySock® is a very new piece of safety equipment, so we don’t have a lot of data yet given the short time it’s been on the market; the most recent relevant research on the general principles on which it’s based comes from FEMA’s 2009 Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study. However, we’ve begun a three-phase research project directly related to the SafetySock®.
Phase I: A brief report of the literature research focusing on matters relating to the SafetySock®. This project will be conducted by the Management of Technology division of the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico under the supervision of Professor Steven T. Walsh, a national authority on technology strategy.
Phase II: After the completion of Phase I, a collaboration between UNM and with Dr. Seth Emont from White Mountain Research Associates in New Hampshire will explore a case study for examining the effectiveness of SafetySock® in use. This step will include interviews with early users of SafetySock® on their first-hand experiences. Dr. Emont is a trained epidemiologist who conducts research on innovation work in public health issues. The City of Albuquerque and surrounding agencies will be the focus as they are early adopters of our new product.
Phase III: A study of SafetySock® based on simulated models. It is our plan that the findings from Phase I will inform the case study of Phase II, which in turn will direct the parameters of Phase III’s study.
ML: Where can people buy the SafetySock®? Is it available internationally?
BL: Currently, they’re available on Amazon.com to the NAFTA countries, but we’re finalizing plans for global distribution very soon. Interested individuals, companies, and organizations can visit our website for additional information on how and where to purchase the SafetySock®: www.globosocks.com. SafetySock comes in three different sizes: Car/SUV, Large Truck, and Industrial, starting at $24.99. They’re made from industry-standard (including ANSI) reflective materials for strength, durability, and visibility. There is also space on the Sock to put your own company or agency logo on it.
ML: Does Globosocks have future plans for other new products?
BL: We’re always looking for opportunities to improve road safety, and we have a few ideas in development. However, we’re not prepared to make any announcements at this time. Our primary goal is to integrate the SafetySock® in a multitude of uses to keep drivers safe. We believe that we are the seatbelt of the future and that one day a SafetySock® will be a standard piece of equipment in all vehicles made. Until then, we are working diligently to make our equipment available to as many end users as possible.
Note: I was not compensated for promoting this product other than receiving a free sample.