Maintaining road markings

1st Nov 2023

Potholes get all the headlines, but another aspect of road maintenance – road markings – is arguably just as important. CIHT member Ann Hill, in a personal capacity, assesses the current level of the problem

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Words by Ann Hill

In the top 10 causes for road collisions in the UK, in eighth place is ‘Road environment contributed’. This is where inadequate road markings or signs, or road layouts can affect the condition of the road. It’s the contributing factor in 12% of accidents (7,784 total) in 2021.

It’s something that I think about frequently when I drive, especially when approaching roundabouts in junctions where the lane markings are worn and you risk wandering into the wrong lane – or somebody wandering into yours.

Another example is a street near my home, where the road markings have been restored, but a central strip that was previously diagonally hatched has not had those markings restored. The result is that it now looks like a three-lane road, but there is no sign or indication about whether you can drive in the central lane. It’s a collision waiting to happen.

We also seem to be seeing authorities stepping beyond the Highway Code’s road markings guidance. I recently saw one example where Severn Trent was undertaking some work near a set of traffic lights, which resulted in a bright red patch of anti-skid paint with bright yellow stripes that just appear out of nowhere and then disappear again, because the other lines are faded. It was much too busy for drivers to take in when approaching the lights, with patches of red and different yellow lines.

A wiggly white line

And then there’s Clevedon. 

You might have seen the news stories earlier in the year about a white circle and ‘wiggly line’ markings on the seafront in the North Somerset town. In January, a wavy white line was painted on the carriageway. A council spokesperson said: "The lines are a design feature to … help make the road feel narrower, which is a technique used to slow traffic speeds. A wavy line provides uncertainty to the driver and is proven to help reduce unwanted parking."

Providing uncertainty to drivers? That doesn’t sound like good road safety policy.

The lines were removed a few weeks later, only to be replaced by a stretch of (wiggly) beige tarmac.

Road users have plenty of opportunities to report faded or badly maintained road markings: all you have to do is use the FixMyStreet app to report a problem, or type ‘faded road markings’ into a search engine to find local authority websites asking drivers to report examples. However, maintenance doesn’t seem able to keep up with the volume of road markings that need refreshing or replacing.

The funding gap

Undoubtedly, this is due to the funding issues that have affected local authorities’ ability to spend on vital services such as road safety. 

The UK has fallen far behind other high-income countries in funding local road repairs, according to research from the Local Government Association (LGA). In 2006 the government spent £4bn on local road maintenance, according to figures from the OECD, a group of 38 high-income countries. By 2019, this had dropped to £2bn. Over the same period, Sweden, Denmark, the US, Japan and New Zealand have increased spending on local roads by around a half: only Italy and Ireland have seen cuts comparable to the UK.

The tools are in place for those responsible for highway maintenance – including upgrading road markings – to keep our roads safe. What we need now is enough funding to do that.

Ann Hill was in conversation with Craig Thomas

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