A growing trend for selectively removing road markings to change driver behaviour towards more awareness of vulnerable users generates heated debate on safety.
The Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA) in the UK has described the notion of removing white lines from parts of the country’s road network as misplaced, misleading and potentially fatally flawed.
With an increasing presence in “shared space” schemes such as those in Kensington and other parts of London, the idea is for drivers and pedestrians to become more aware of each other’s presence and generally to slow motorists down.
Talking on Radio 4, Norfolk County Council’s Assistant Director for Highways, Tracy Jessop said that changes made in the county had resulted in positive impacts with speed reductions having been achieved. In Norfolk, the council has focused mainly on village locations, where the centre lines have been removed in order to influence driver behaviour and reduce speed.
In Norwich, white line removal has focused on cross-city routes with large numbers of cyclists where centre lines have been reduced and advisory cycle lane lines added where the road width is under 5.5 metres.
Commenting on the scheme, Tracy Jessop said, “Drivers change their behaviour because they no longer feel that they have their own lane so they tend to be more attentive, more cautious and that does reduce their speed.”
The AA’s President, Edmund King, believes that context is the key and that, as in Norfolk, not all roads should be treated equally. Also speaking on Radio 4, Edmund King said, “There’s a hierarchy of roads from motorways to residential cul-de-sacs and I think on the faster roads we definitely need lines to help us to read the roads.”
Mr King went on to say that the removal of white lines causes problems in other spheres such as vehicle autonomy. Autonomous vehicles of the future will rely heavily on the existence of high quality road markings to be able to “read the road” and validate their satellite positioning calculations.
Commenting on the claim that the removal of white lines creates greater awareness between drivers and vulnerable road users, the RSMA’s Chief Executive, George Lee expressed his doubts that pedestrians could be able to make eye contact with drivers. “With most vehicles, it is difficult to see the driver, never mind make eye contact – assuming the vehicle is travelling slowly enough. And for those who are blind or partially sighted, the idea is an insult.”
Reports from the Road Safety Foundation (RSF) have also shown that road markings are the most cost-effective measure in improving road safety, with central hatching and turn-right pockets, edgelines, rumble strips and speed limit roundels all contributing to safety without the need for vertical signs.
According to the RSMA, there is little proof that removing road markings makes roads safer or that drivers confused by a lack of clear guidance are somehow safer drivers.
In conclusion, George Lee told us, “We can all only hope that the notion of removing white lines to improve road safety does not turn out to be fatally flawed.”