Making a mark on UK roads – for the safety of future generations

David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner

Do you ever give the humble road marking a second thought? Thought not; neither did I until I did some work, recently, with the Road Safety Markings Association, which I bet you’ve never even heard of.

Suddenly, I realised what an important industry this is. Let’s have some facts. The RSMA represents about 90 per cent of firms involved in road markings – and has done so for 30 years. Altogether, the industry employs around 4,000.

The RSMA points out, quite rightly, that lines and markings are essential; if they were taken away, millions of drivers would instantly lose vital – often near-subliminal – information that guides them safely on their journeys, at junctions and roundabouts, on unlit roads at night, on motorways and at entrances to car parks. Everywhere in fact.

It’s only when you take a close look at the Highway Code that you realise how utterly diverse – and commonplace – road markings really are. There’s one for every occasion – even if you’re not 100 per cent sure what every single one of them means. I never can remember the true meaning of those short yellow stripes painted over kerbs, informing us when we can and can’t load.

As I delved further into the world of road markings I uncovered a raft of interesting facts, so here are a few to contemplate next time you find yourself on a long journey; or stuck in a jam.

Did you know that inexpensive improvements alongside routine maintenance – rather than specific campaigns to improve road safety – have helped reduce fatal and serious crashes by 80 per cent on 15 sections of UK roads? The majority of remedial measures were road marking and signing improvements and resurfacing.

On those 15 roads studied by the Road Safety Foundation, 237 people were killed and seriously injured in the three years before the actions were taken. But in the three following years the casualty toll fell to 52, amounting to an incalculable saving in human misery and an economic saving of £25 million, at just £110,000 per kilometre.

The RSMA believes that these safety gains should be replicated across the UK, especially on ‘most persistently high risk’ roads – including narrow, twisting hilly, rural stretches – where improved central white lines and edge lines to guide road users pay high huge safety dividends.

A prime example of this in action is last year’s ‘most improved road’, a section of the A4128 in Buckinghamshire where new solar-powered road studs improved night-time vision, following several fatal collisions. The 11 km section of the A4128 between Great Missenden and High Wycombe moved from being one of Britain’s most notorious, highest risk roads to one of the safest, with fatal and serious collisions dropping by 89 per cent from 19 to two over the past two surveys. RSMA calculations show that thanks to low cost improvements on just 15 roads, more than 300 people in the UK are alive today, or have avoided serious injury.

The ‘humble’ road marking? There’s no such thing

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