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United Kingdom Transportation

Are Roads Safer With No Central White Lines? 602

Press2ToContinue writes: White lines along the center of roads have been removed in parts of the UK, with some experts saying it encourages motorists to slow down. So is it the beginning of the end for the central road marking? You are driving along the road when the dotted white line that has been your companion — separating your car from oncoming traffic — suddenly disappears. One theory is that you will slow down, making the road safer. What could possibly go wrong?
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Are Roads Safer With No Central White Lines?

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  • In Alaska... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:04AM (#51467817)

    Snow covers them in the winter, and the paint is rarely visible in the summer unless it's a new road. What I've found is roads with single lanes in each direction do just fine without lines. Multiple lanes, turning lanes, or lanes that are about to end often fuck things up, however. This isn't the kind of wholesale change I'd recommend doing on purpose, but I can definitely see the value in certain streets as long as they aren't windy (where drivers will tend to drift towards the center and may not have much time to correct for oncoming traffic after a bend).

    • Re:In Alaska... (Score:4, Informative)

      by bothemeson ( 1416261 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:22AM (#51467869) Homepage
      Good points, fortunately in the UK we have very few multiple lane roads and the removals are generally done where accidents show that people tend to speed because they feel too safe and should be reminded of both their own and others' vulnerability. It's recently happened near where I live, on a long slow bend where people were speeding up just before the crest of a hill and hugging the centre due to not seeing over that crest. The results have been immediate, people now tend towards the sides of the road and drive at a speed appropriate to the dangers. The 'theorists' predicting the end-of-the-world still claim that the evidence is 'wrong' and probably always will. Mebbe we should reward the understanding of stats rather than maths?
      • by iapetus ( 24050 )

        The question, of course, is whether this is a permanent fix or a temporary one; as the idiots who like to drive above a safe speed for the road (which doesn't necessarily match with the speed limit and isn't consistent along the length of the road) and overtake inappropriately get more familiar with the road, they may well revert to their old ways, and now the road markings are missing it's likely to increase certain elements of their bad behaviour.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:04AM (#51467819) Homepage

    ...when they finally go big time, given that the white lines currently are used to guide them on multi lane roads.

    It seems similar to what i believe they did in the netherlands where they removed any distinction between the road and the pedestrian areas which apparently slowed down traffic. However what ALL these schemes forget is that 99% of people are not driving for the fun of it - they're doing it for a reason and the more you slow them down the slower society will run at the end of the day. So what you say? Well you won't be saying that if your doctor is 30 mins late because of traffic calming or the police/amulance/fire took longer to reach a call despite the blue lights because of the backed up traffic they had to squeeze through.

    • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:51AM (#51467945) Homepage

      ...when they finally go big time, given that the white lines currently are used to guide them on multi lane roads.

      No need to wait for autonomous vehicle.
      Current safety devices use it already:

      - Lane Departure Warning:
      vehicle uses the contrast of white lines on dark asphalt to guess where the lane is, and can either alert the driver (e.g.: Volvo cars) or correct course (e.g.: BMW) to stay in the lane. The driver needs to explicitly switch on the turn signal to tell the car that he indeed intend to turn the car.
      No lines, not easy for the car to tell what exactly the trajectory should be. Whereas humans can more or less guess based on the surrounding and know where the "virtual lane" should go (and TFA's idea is that this guess-work will force drivers to be more prudent and slow down. My own feeling is that the first 2 weeks, the drivers will be watchful, then they'll get used it, and then everything will be back to normal)

      - Forward Collision Avoidance:
      vehicle have a forward facing radar that can detect other vehicle in front. So the car can see if the other in front breaks (when they are both in the same lane, i.e.: a traffic jam) and automatically slow down the cruise control (and in some car, resume driving once the traffic jam clears and the car in front starts again).
      Also, the cars can detect incoming vehicle or vehicle that are on a crash course and prevent by applying breaks.
      For that to work, again the car's computer need to have some basic idea of where lanes are. Other wise, there's a risk that the car will hit the break, even if the stoped/slower vehicle was in another lane, or the incoming car is in the other half of the road (like in TFA's case).

      It seems similar to what i believe they did in the netherlands where they removed any distinction between the road and the pedestrian areas which apparently slowed down traffic.

      ...well at least, pedestrian and cyclist collision avoidance (more usually called "City Safety" by constructor, and currently slowly becoming a strandard option on most vehicle in europe), is entirely Lidar-based or shape-recognition based.
      (i.e.: the car doesn't stop on its own because you're dangerously close to a pedestrian area or a bicycle lane, but because it recognised the object in front of you).
      So at least *that* idea isn't disrupting existing safety device. But still...

      I'm more proponent of some European city which have buried some of their highway network underground.

      I don't think that forcing people to think about the security themselves by removing safety marking will actually work on the long term.
      I strongly suspect that people will slowly adapt and get used to the missing markings, and start driving as carelessly as before.

      If you think about it, large swaths of road miss markings, specially in developing countries. And those countries aren't exactly known for lower incident rates (though other reason, like vehicles to broken to be road-safe, missing driving education, etc. are other factors in play).

    • by xaxa ( 988988 )

      It's nothing like "shared space" in the Netherlands.

      A huge proportion of road in the UK has no white lines anyway, it's either too narrow, or they are in a built-up area with low speeds expected. Self-driving cars will have to deal with this.

      Here, they are removing some lines from slightly larger roads in built-up areas, to make them feel more dangerous. That makes drivers slow down.

      Plenty of driving has a net-negative effect on society, so by your economic argument we should be slowing down and reducing tr

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

        "Plenty of driving has a net-negative effect on society,"

        A miniscule proportion of it. The vast majority of it is essential - at least for the person concerned.

        " so by your economic argument we should be slowing down and reducing traffic even more."

        Err no. That would be your argument, not mine pal.

  • Insanity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kentmartin ( 244833 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:04AM (#51467821) Homepage

    On dark nights with heavy rain, the white lines are invaluable for knowing where exactly the road is, and making an unexpected departure from the regular route.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      If you're relying on reflective paint, what about fallen trees, deer, pot holes, other debris and road users not coated in reflective paint? If someone is using the road and relying on the lines to keep them on the route, then they are using the road unsafely.
      • If you're relying on reflective paint, what about fallen trees, deer, pot holes, other debris and road users not coated in reflective paint? If someone is using the road and relying on the lines to keep them on the route, then they are using the road unsafely.

        I think you missed the point of the OP, evidenced by your comment.

        • Hah, well spotted. I think I may have fallen foul of Poe's Law. Or you have. Or something.
      • Re:Insanity (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jafiwam ( 310805 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:58AM (#51467973) Homepage Journal

        If you're relying on reflective paint, what about fallen trees, deer, pot holes, other debris and road users not coated in reflective paint? If someone is using the road and relying on the lines to keep them on the route, then they are using the road unsafely.

        We can't fix all problems, therefore, we shouldn't fix any problems!

        • I assume you're alluding to the idea that white lines solve the problem of knowing where one's lane is. If white lines solve this problem, but then introduce a worse problem, then scrapping it is hardly "let's not fix any problems". Let's use science, even if it seems counter-intuitive.
      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        If you're relying on reflective paint, what about fallen trees, deer, pot holes, other debris and road users not coated in reflective paint? If someone is using the road and relying on the lines to keep them on the route, then they are using the road unsafely.

        Apparently you've never driven in Ontario or Michigan. You're lucky if you just get reflective paint, hell in rainy weather you're lucky if you can even see your own lane.

        • Thankfully the south of the UK doesn't get much proper weather (er, excluding yesterday :-) so I've not often used roads in truly bad weather conditions. All of the times I did I was going at a crawl for the whole distance, because of extremely low visibility. Didn't need lines then, either.
      • by havana9 ( 101033 )
        Because making a road less safe, forcing driver to consider also the straightness of the road while watching for other obstacles makes the roads safe.

        Slowing down the traffic is a method to make a road safer, not the target to achieve when managing roads. To put thing at an extreme, people on a narrow dirt road are driving slower or not driving at all, than on a motorway but the latter one in a raining day is way safer.

        • I'm all for unusual or counter-intuitive solutions to problems as long as there is solid science behind them. From what I understand of some of the UK trials, there has been question on the long-term data, which is problematic IYAM.
        • by Ken D ( 100098 )

          No, making the road harder to identify just makes the road less safe.

          I've been in road conditions where I practically had to have someone lead me down the road on foot because visibility from inside the car was so bad. Road markings are not optional under such conditions.

    • Re:Insanity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:20AM (#51467863)

      On dark nights with heavy rain, the white lines are invaluable for knowing where exactly the road is, and making an unexpected departure from the regular route.

      This comment basically sums up the reason for doing this. Drivers now expect that transport engineers/councils should ensure they can blast down a road, rain or shine, day or night, busy or not, at 5mph above the posted speed limit (under the police threshold). It is their 'right', and if they can't then someone is to blame. The whole idea of this scheme is to make drivers realise they must constantly adjust their speed to the conditions, and that may very well mean travelling at speeds they believe are painfully slow.

      I have driven on many of these sorts of roads in the UK. They are not motorways. Many times they are far from an ideal width due to historical concerns, and heavily shared by pedestrians and cyclists. It sounds like councils are taking a very pragmatic approach to trying to improve road safety for everyone and, provided they don't go out of control (in the end you have to accept some risk vs speed in a transport network) then it sounds like a good way forward.

      • I find many of my fellow cyclists also blast down shared paths in ways they really shouldn't. I wonder if the same psychology applies because their route has a picture of a bicycle on it. I pootle through one such local path at no more than 8mph under any conditions. I find it a constant source of amazement that some motorists think that driving at a very slow speed is an inconceivable notion, and that everyone else should just stay out of their way at all times. The fact that such behaviour can endanger l
        • It's an unfortunate reality of a lot of existing/historical road planning policy that it creates a them-and-us culture one way or another. Cars and cycles. Cars and buses. Buses and cycles. Lorries and everyone. White vans and other white vans.

          What a lot of people seem to be missing in this discussion is that over-regulation and excessive road markings and street furniture create a false sense of security and so lead to over-confidence. There's a white line dividing the cycle lane from the main traffic, so

    • Re:Insanity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by __aardcx5948 ( 913248 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:25AM (#51467877)

      How about keeping the lines on the edges of the road but removing the middle one?

    • Snow... Live somewhere where roads are covered with snow for 4 months of the year and you will see that the road lines are not required. They do inform the driver on when it is potentially safe to pass, but that's about it.
  • by peon_a-z,A-Z,0-9$_+! ( 2743031 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:06AM (#51467827)

    Why are they slowing down? The "theory" in the article posits that the removal of the line is the cause. However, like most things in "real-life", it's probably more complicated than such a simple and easy answer (CAPTCHA: headline)!

    Another theory could be given that, hey, people who are plopped in an unfamiliar environment act cautiously. Here, they aren't familiar with a road without a visible divider, and hey, better be more cautious! This results in slowing down, for now.

    But then in the future, when people are familiar to roads without lines, they resume their original speed. However now, this time, they can't guide their trajectory on the line and accidents increase.

    Boom! All of a sudden, in our internet-crazy, fast-inciting lifestyle of simple theories we are poised on making a decision that seems good but will actually cause more accidents over time!

    Damn, maybe things aren't really so simple in the real world after all. Maybe someone who actually puts some effort into the cause and effect of the situation will come along and produce a real set of theories to explain the drivers' behavior...

    • Also, note that on the pictures in TFA they widened the bicycle paths and thus effectively put the opposing lanes closer to each other. I imagine that would have an effect on average speed as well.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      These measures have been in place for several years in some countries. Drivers are familiar with the roads but still drive more slowly.

      It's not just that they feel they need to pay more attention, it's that they are more concerned about other drivers. With the white line they assume that everything up to it is theirs and other drivers won't stray over it, of if they do it will be the other driver's fault. Without the lines they suddenly start to look at exactly how far over the other person is.

      Human psychol

  • Germany (Score:4, Interesting)

    by astro ( 20275 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:07AM (#51467829) Homepage

    Most German rural highways (read: not the Autobahn, but still arteries between cities) are already like this.

    • Re:Germany (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:47AM (#51467933)

      But not as willi-nilly hoping to slow drivers down whenthere is no reason to slow down.

      There is a system to that:

      1. Center line: This is your lane. The road is wide enough for at least one lane for each direction. Everyone stays in his lane and nothing happens. No overtaking
      2. Broken center line: same as above, but may use adjacent lane for overtaking
      3. No line: Road may or may not be wide enough to pass oncoming traffic safely. Pay attention, keep to the right and use common sense
      4. Double line: multiple lanes for at least one direction available. The lane on the other site is NOT your direction. Imagine this as a guiding rail and never ever cross.

      If you now simply remove lines, this information is lost.

      And this is even completly ignoring the fact that different speed limits (read: suggested maximum speed) require special lane markings.

    • Most? Absolutely not. This, from my personal experience, is definitely false. Most roads have lines. They just don't bother with some rural roads that don't see much usage and that're in such bad condition that nobody in their right mind would speed there anyway.
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:07AM (#51467831) Homepage Journal

    It wouldn't surprise me. There have been studies showing that removing speed limit signs actually improve safety as well, because people tend to drive at a safe speed. When weather is bad, people tend to still try to drive the speed limit. When weather is good, it actually increases the variation in speeds. And it's less speed that kills, it's variations in speed.

    That being said, I don't know if the effects would stack - it might be better to have no speed limit AND the white line, or no white line with a speed limit, but having neither or both is less safe. Or it might be situational.

    I just hope that self driving cars renders it all moot, though the mental processing involved is interesting.

    • by jafiwam ( 310805 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:08AM (#51468007) Homepage Journal

      Speed limits (and some other types of rules) are to enforce safety on what some of the outliers do.

      "Regular people" who are just trying to get somewhere do generally act safely, and for the most part adjust. (Though there are exceptions.)

      The problem is the rules are for the people that don't adjust, they don't think anything will happen, or they aren't wise enough to realize what the consequences are.

      Removing the rules, subjects the "ordinary people" to the mistakes of the outliers to a much greater degree.

      If you haven't ever done this, go over to Youtube and search for "car crash" videos and enjoy a couple hours of soviets and other former eastern bloc countries slaughtering each other on the roads. Then about half way through, notice the body parts ones, kid gets dragged ones, etc. aren't posted because that sort of stuff is illegal there (the videos of it) and against Youtube TOS. The really bad shit, they won't show you. In almost all the videos, you'll see normal people and then some dumbass outlier who thinks there are no rules causing problems.

      You are signing us all up for that bullshit with your hairbrained plan.

      Rules are not for rules followers, rules are for people who will try to break the rules. Misplaced faith in those people to "be better" punishes us all.

    • by swilver ( 617741 )

      It amuses me that people think that crippling infrastructure is the way to increase safety. I'd say it's bloody obvious because the correlation is less speed = more safety.

      So the next step is to replace those roads with cobblestones... I'm sure people will slow down and accidents will decrease even further.

      The real innovation will be when you can drive safer and faster at the same time. Lines help with that, as do wider roads.

  • by Foske ( 144771 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @06:10AM (#51467839)

    Switching sides is rather trivial except for two things: Roads without centerlines and roundabouts. With the UK being quite close to countries where they drive on the other side of the road (i.e. the rest of Europe), indeed, what could possibly go wrong...

  • White lines let you make an assumption that any oncoming traffic will be on their side so you can boot on regardless. Same with traffic lights, if you get rid of them traffic flows better but you have to be more careful navigating the junction. If you do have traffic lights people plough on without looking because the light has given them the go ahead
  • Sure, why not!
    Add lava-filled potholes too and spikes that popup at random, that'll surely slow them down!
  • The change is probably making drivers more cautious because it's a change and they're not used to it. But once they get comfortable, speeds will be back up.
  • Where I live this would result in @ss hats sitting in the middle of the road. It happens all the time when they resurface the road and have not repainted the lines. Since each job is contracted out the contract to paint the lines could be still getting bribes... I mean *incentives* and can sometimes lag up to six months after the road is resurfaced. During that time lots of people just drive smack bang in the middle and sometimes you have to hug the side of the road to get past them, and then they give Y
    • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

      Or they drive in what used to be the bike lane, shying away from people on the other side who are picking a random lane to drive in.

  • Try it here (Score:2, Funny)

    by kqc7011 ( 525426 )
    I-495. The gridlock that would occur might even be beneficial.
  • by LostMyBeaver ( 1226054 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @07:36AM (#51468105)
    I've been told that the white line is needed for a tipsy driver to follow.

    Also, when said driver is pulled over, the quality of the YouTube videos will decline based on asking the guy to walk on the white line
  • I say remove head lights and darken those windshields. People will be sure to drive real slow.
  • Farm roads in Texas (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @08:11AM (#51468205)

    When I was growing up, some of our smaller -- but paved -- farm roads (sometimes called farm-to-market roads) here in rural Texas were single-lane roads with no center stripe. That seemed to work pretty well, granted that the traffic was very light. People who lived out in the country were used to driving on single-lane dirt roads -- county roads -- anyhow, so the wider and paved road was a comfortable step up.

    Then an order came down from above that all paved state roads must be at least TWO LANE. And since there was no money available to actually widen any of them. . . Yep, they just painted a stripe down the middle of the one-lane roads and called it two lanes! Two very narrow lanes. Thus, where before we had crowded to the edge of the road when passing somehow, now we are crowded to the edge of the road all the time. And there's no shoulder. This is NOT an improvement.

  • "...What could possibly go wrong?"

    "You were on MY side of the road!"

    "No I wasn't!!"

    "Yes, you were!!"

    "Well, according to MY eyes you were, since we don't have clear markings any more to follow!"

    "Well, you need to get your eyes checked! I had plenty of room on MY side!"

    Yeah, what could possibly go wrong. Are you fucking kidding me with that? This law looks like it was proposed by lawyers and car manufacturers, since those are the two organizations looking to grow and profit the most by removing safety features from our roads.


  • by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @09:39AM (#51468585)

    So because the road seems weird to what a driver usually expects they'll slow down...but humans being smart they'll soon speed back up.

    So in theory the change causes people to become more cautious? because the real danger is speed? (let's ignore the autobahn because it defies the "speed kills" thought camp. Yes accidents at higher speeds are more deadly, but accidents rates are the mass killers, inexperience, drunken driving etc - not speeding)

    Of course what a genius idea it is to change roads randomly to see if people are more cautious for testing. Why not change them all the time? make contra-flow lanes, make them glow in the dark and put scary signs. Everything will be so much safer right? -err at least initially when drivers will be worried about this odd section of road.

    If speed is such a concern why not limit the speed of vehicles to the national speed limit? -plenty of heavy goods vehicles are speed limited why not everything else?

    Traffic police want to fine us. Make money off speeding drivers. They know it's not speed that directly causes accidents but merely a factor (sometimes not even that).

    What did speed cameras achieve? more fines and drivers that know where the cameras are that speed between them. Toll roads that have drivers speed all the way to the rest stop and have coffee for 30 minutes.

    Accident rates are lowered by better drivers. Survivability is increased with better technology and judgement of better drivers.

    Yes, better roads and signs are a factor but what is more important is consistency. If you use the same system everywhere you know what to expect everywhere but I digress.

    In my opinion the driving test only forces you to learn how to pass it. You only really learn to drive on the road, with time and experience. Most drivers drive nothing like they did on their theory test day. (for better and worse)

    It would be nice if governments focus on *offering* (not imposing) refresher and advanced driving courses every so many years. That they focus on prevention by enhancing driver skills and setting legal limits based on scientific, testable conclusions that are long-lasting. That safety agencies use new electronic measures to limit acceleration and top speed in areas of increased risk. (read school ahead!). To legislate certain reasonable limits for vehicle power to weight ratios for commuting.

    Lastly, that governing bodies come up with a no BS plan to combat congestion and other driver frustrations. Encourage different start times, flexible working hours, put schemes and initiative because everyone wins when traffic flows.

    All of these can be solved with an autonomous shuttle. A self-driving vehicle. It does not get tired, it does not get angry, it is always driving in accordance with legal requirements, it keeps its distance, it accelerates responsibility and has technology to mitigate collision damage. Best of all the data can be used to make every driver less car as safe as an experienced cautious driver. -scores of people die in traffic accidents every day. They don't have to.

    Personally I'd rather be reading slashdot on the way to work than watching the bumper of the car in-front of me. I hope you will agree that the time for driver less cars is now and possibly long overdo.

    (I started off writing with a point in-mind but it became a stream of consciousness type thing. Thanks for reading.)

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