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Does removing white lines make our roads safer?

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Councils around the UK are removing the central lines from a number of roads in a bid to cut speeds and reduce accident rates. But does this policy really make sense?

White lines on UK A-road

Could removing the white lines from the middle of the road actually lead to a reduction in accidents?

That is certainly the view of an increasing number of local authorities around the UK.

Successful trials

Earlier this month, Transport for London (TfL) made headlines when it decided to get rid of the central markings from parts of the A22 and A23 in the south of the city.

This followed trials in Wiltshire and Derby, while a similar scheme is planned in parts of Norfolk.

Supporters of the idea say that an absence of the broken white lines that normally separate traffic heading in opposite directions can force motorists to drive more carefully and at the correct speed.

Prior to introducing the new policy, TfL carried out a handful of trials in London.

Less recklessness

It found that average speeds fell by between 5mph and 8.6mph on roads where central lines had been painted over.

Researchers also discovered that cars tended to slow down when passing vehicles heading in the opposite direction.

TfL's study backed up earlier results from Wiltshire, where officials recorded lower speeds and a fall in the number of collisions after lines were removed.

TfL has suggested that the presence of white lines gives road users an extra level of confidence which often translates into higher speeds and more reckless driving in general.

'Not the end of the road'

UK motorway

But the organisation admitted that this policy was not suitable for all roads, and said that “careful analysis” was required before any decision was taken about whether to introduce such measures.

Motorists' groups have expressed some concern about the idea of scrapping white lines.

Nicholas Lyes at the RAC said: “The RAC very much doubts that this'll be the end of the road for white lines on major roads.

"While a thorough trial is needed to weigh up the pros and cons before a decision is taken to remove lines from roads, it feels a bit like the idea of removing traffic lights."

Increased fear factor?

Lyes added: "There may be some areas where there's a benefit but a lot where the disadvantages outweigh any potential benefits.

"And their removal would also likely lead to an increased ‘fear factor’ of driving and accidents for the majority of motorists who take confidence from clear road markings."

AA president Edmund King added that it was vital to retain white lines on certain roads.

"We need clear lines and areas of demarcation on our fastest roads," King said.

"Semi-autonomous cars are now on the market with lane-departure warnings which rely on reading the white lines on the road and warning the driver or self-correcting the steering if the driver veers off."

The video below explains how a lane departure system works.

Money-saving accusations

King continues: "And a pot of paint used to indicate corners, bends and up-coming junctions can be crucial to road safety on faster roads."

Lyes said that white lines would also be an important navigation aid for driverless cars, which are likely to become a common sight in the UK over the next decade.

As such, it seemed “counter-intuitive” to remove lines from major roads and motorways.

He added: "It could also be seen as a cynical attempt at road safety on the cheap, and there'll be some that are keen to suggest it is a cost saving measure, albeit a small one in the overall cost of road maintenance.

It feels instinctive that white-line road markings are an essential feature keeping our roads safe and our lanes clearly defined in both daylight and the hours of darkness.

"And we mustn't forget that the development of cat’s eyes in the 1930s has been universally heralded as one of the greatest road-safety improvements of all time, used all over the world."

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