/ Motoring

The state of our roads – what’s happening to Catseyes?

Road studs, Wales

Driving on the motorway in the dark can be a hair-raising experience. Not because of other drivers, but because of a lack of working Catseyes (also called road studs). Have you spotted any failed reflective road studs?

When the weather conditions are tough – which, let’s face it, isn’t uncommon, even today there are warnings out for freezing fog – and you’re driving on a motorway at night, you rely on road studs to help keep you safe.

Night-time driving

A recent night time drive I had coming back from visiting family was really frightening. The road studs on a section of the motorway weren’t working.

Without the guidance from the reflective road studs, we struggled to see our lane in the dark during pouring rain. We cut our speed to match the conditions, but just didn’t feel safe.

Maybe we just happened to be unlucky and the road studs had recently failed. Or no one has bothered to report the problem.

But this was a major motorway that sees a lot of traffic, and I’d like to think that at least one person would have taken the time to report it.

Failed road studs

Asking around friends, family and colleagues, it seems this isn’t an uncommon experience.

Lots of people told me about their experience of being really scared, trying to peer through thick fog or driving rain, knowing that all it takes is one small mistake from either yourself or another driver and there will be a car accident.

Motorway driving is tricky enough, putting up with other drivers who insist on tailgating, random lane changing and not paying attention to their blind spots, without being unable to see the road. Even if your car is packed with the latest car safety features.

Reporting road problems

Finding who to report the problem to isn’t entirely straightforward, though I do now know more than I should about feline optical conditions.

In case you come across any failed road studs yourself, it will either fall under the jurisdiction of the relevant Highways Agency or the local council’s website.

Have you had a problem with road studs? Which road was it on? Did you report it and, if so, was it ever repaired?

Comments
Ian Cooper says:
28 January 2017

I really missed this simple innovation whilst living on the Isle of Man. Apart from the towns, the roads aren’t lit at night and the use of catseyes would have impact on the high number of accidents on the Island. The road between Ronaldsway Airport and Douglas can be particularly hairy and a journey I used to dread when returning from a trip home. Likewise the mountain road is particularly susceptible to fog and the drive, not to mention the accident rate, would be greatly improved with the introduction of catseyes.

Perhaps they would create a safety hazard to the TT racers? Manx cats have no tails – coincidence?

Graham Terrry says:
28 January 2017

Having spent time in Spain recently I was impressed by the generous use of Cats-eyes on the motorways.
At junctions several different colours are used to great effect. More useful than street lighting and with no operating costs.
God bless yet another Yorkshireman

As someone who drives regularly in France in all weathers and where there are no cats eyes, I do not find it a problem, even though, generally, there is no lighting on the french motorways or “A” or “B” roads outside of the towns.

However, the painted road markings are well maintained and can be clearly seen in most weather conditions apart from snow (the same problem with cats eyes in the UK). Strict maintenance of the UK road markings would be far cheaper than installing and maintaining cats eyes. This should then restrict the problems that even cats eyes don’t fix: lack of concentration by drivers and inexperienced or bad/idiot drivers, whether in good or bad weather, day or night.

Clare Butler says:
28 January 2017

It’s not just that they’ve failed – our council has deliberately removed at lot of them, on rural roads with no lighting. In fog it’s terrifying as the cats eyes were the only guidance.

Ms Heffernan says:
28 January 2017

I have rarely seen any cat’s eyes here in Wiltshire and Dorset. I just thought they resurfaced roads and covered over them.
It does make driving at night extremely hazardous and that’s with it raining.

This topic is very close to my heart – recently, I very nearly ‘lost’ the road completely on a wet and unlit section of the A12; it’s bad enough in the dry but the few surviving ‘eyes’ disappear entirely when wet.

As reported by other respondents, this is not a small or local problem and as such must be worthy of a concerted campaign to rectify this extremely dangerous situation. Surely, a ‘name and shame’ exercise in support is desperately needed. What about it ‘Which?’?

Whilst on the topic, reflective lines marking nearside road margins also seem to be disappearing – these too should be properly installed and maintained.

A poster has mentioned the A12 – I don’t like driving along this road at night (London to Colchester J28 stretch) due to poor lighting and road markings. Even worse though is the A120 running from the M11 to Marks Tey J25 of the A12 – impossible to see edges of the A120 for miles.

Tony Ellis says:
29 January 2017

I recently had the misfortune to drive, at night, on the A128 – southbound from the A127 towards the A13. This is mainly a single carriageway road and, mostly, unlit, not only were the cat’s eye not visible (or even there in the first place), but often there was no white line on the nearside either to delineate road from verge. Where there was a line, it had become almost useless through wear and tear and road dirt.

Peter Luckin says:
29 January 2017

Is there a definitive legal requirement for the installation and maintaineace of cats eyes and white lines? Or is there just a ‘guidance note’ system? If the former, then a few legal actions might help improve the situation.

Highway authorities have a lot of discretion to determine which road safety measures should be adopted for each length of road having regard to a number of factors. Once they have decided on a particular form then, for national consistency purposes, it has to comply with a design manual. Failure to provide any signage or driver guidance where there is a known hazard or a frequent safety problem could be considered negligent but I think it would be difficult to persuade a court that there was a breach of duty. The authorities will always fall back on the convention that a driver must proceed at a speed and with caution within the conditions and visibility prevailing at the time.

I believe the A12 is a trunk road managed by Highways England. It might be worth taking up concerns about deficient safety precautions with the relevant MP’s or with the Regulator, the Office of Rail and Roads.

C Booth says:
29 January 2017

Some roads in East Devon have signs saying “cats’ eyes removed” but no explaniation. As the roads where this has happened are twisty and narrow it does make night and poor light driving difficult. Is it a cost cutting exercise?

A quick search produced this newspaper article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/11845616/End-of-the-road-for-cats-eyes.html

From this article: “The lights have a battery which is capable of storing up to 200 hours worth of charge, which means they work even on days when there is little light.
They cost £30 and last for between eight and 10 years. By contrast cats eyes cost around £10 and last for between two and three years before they need replacing.” Is this backed up by independent tests? It smells a bit like marketing to me.

Perhaps we need to look for official information about the government’s plans. I have nothing against LED versions of cat’s eyes but would want to see some long-term testing to test durability and overall cost of installation and maintenance.

This does not answer the question posed by C Booth. Why are cat’s eyes being removed?

Clearview claim. for Solarlite LED road studs, up to 240h light output after a 3 hour charge on a sunny day – 100,000 lx. On an overcast day in winter, say 1000 lx max, a full charge would require around 300 hr. An 8 hr charge/day at this level would presumably give around 6h output – not enough to reach midnight. However the average winter level is likely to be much lower than 1000 lx. So the effective operation seems to depend upon quite regular sunny winter days. Does this logic seem reasonable?

Perhaps a Percy eye could be embedded between the LEDs, or they could be surrounded by a reflective panel, to compensate for poor weather?

I read ‘up to’ as ‘less than’. 🙂

The beauty of traditional cat’s eyes is the wiping mechanism. I hope that the LED versions work in the same way. If I was designing LED cat’s eyes I would incorporate a self-wiping mechanism, perhaps using fibre optics linking the LED with the glass ‘eye’. I agree that it would be useful to have a reflective panel.

One problem with solar devices is that dirt or abrasion will decrease the output of the solar panel. Having them on a dirty road surface and periodically being driven on is hardly ideal. Placing the solar panels on poles at the roadside and connecting wires adds to the complexity and a failure could put out a series of LED studs. Compared with other uses of LEDs on our roads, I am not convinced that this would provide good value for money.

I fail to be convinced that there is a superior system to the traditional cat’s eyes where no energy is required, they are self-illuminating from headlight beams, they clean themselves, and are made of heavy-duty materials for a long-life. In this application, solar power and LED’s seem to be solutions looking for a problem to my mind. Obviously traditional cat’s eyes need to be maintained properly. If the steel casing has become dislodged that can involve more work than just drilling a hole and plugging in a modern version [if that is how they are fitted]. I can’t believe that inserting replacement eyes into a traditional cat’s eye is much more complex than attending to a solar powered LED unit that has failed. I suspect that highway engineers have succumbed to marketing hype and wish to show off their modernity by embracing the latest technology even though it is not necessarily an advance in functionality.

As I wrote in a previous comment, there are many sensible applications for permanently-lit lane and space delineators but our rural roads are not one of them.

When in good condition, and of decent quality, LED cats eyes can replace street lighting where only road guidance is required. They are visible over a much greater distance than reflective cats eyes, particularly on dipped beam. Useful also to mark the end of the minor road at a Tee junction where often a street light would be placed directly opposite. They can also be used in intelligent road systems where, for example, with appropriate signage, lanes can be switched during rush hour to handle more traffic in one direction. But I have to admit to a traditionalist nature where the simple often overrides the complex in workability.

I am all in favour of those sorts of applications, Malcolm, and if the units are cheap enough I should like to see them used on the nearside of main roads to supplement the white lines. I also like the idea of replacing street lighting in appropriate situations; our local highway authority has recently spent a small fortune [PFI, I expect] replacing sodium lanterns with LED’s across the county, and installing shorter columns in many places, so they will not be keen to take them down again in a hurry. There are still hundreds of miles of unlit main roads in Norfolk that require a good guidance system and the traditional cat’s eye still seems right for the job. If people can’t see them perhaps they are going too fast!

Janet says:
30 January 2017

I have noticed over the last 5 years cat’s eyes are disappearing at a fast rate it seems that when roads
are being repaired cat’s eyes are not put back in. I regularly drive down to Lyme Regis and have commented on this to my passenger, with black tar being the surface in pitch black lanes at night it is not an easy drive.
In fog I always relied on them to show the way as many other people do.

J.W. says:
2 February 2017

Cats eyes are invaluable;e. They should certainly be retained! Reading these comments – Why is it that people rarely seem to use high intensity rear lights? These also are invaluable, in fog or heavy rain. Most modern cars have them, so why won’t people use them? Is it because they don’t know the have them, in which case they should read their cars’s handbook!

From the Highway Code:
“Rule 226
You MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet). You may also use front or rear fog lights but you MUST switch them off when visibility improves (see Rule 236).”

All new cars have to be fitted with at least one additional light at both front and rear for use in fog or other bad visibility conditions like heavy rain or spray or smoke, and these lights are of higher intensity than the normal lights. Far from also being “invaluable in fog or heavy rain”, that is in fact the only time when they should be used. Fog lights, whether at the front or rear, should never be used when visibility is clear enough to drive safely, especially at night when other drivers can easily be dazzled. Not only is this dangerous, it’s also illegal, and could result in a non-endorsable Fixed Penalty Notice which carries a £30 fine but no penalty points.

Reading the car handbook is useful but it’s also a good idea to know the Highway Code.

I do wish that all cars were fitted with two rear fog lights. Many cars have only one – on the offside – with a single reversing light in the corresponding position on the nearside. If space is short then the tail lights can be combined with the fog lights using either twin-filament bulbs or some LED arrangement, but this is rarely done.

I don’t think proper lighting on both sides of the car should be compromised in the interests of a styling fashion. Some light clusters look ridiculous nowadays. It must make maintenance and replacement more difficult and a lot more expensive than it needs to be. Reversing lights are not just for alerting other drivers or pedestrians but for providing visibility when reversing into a dark space so I think they need to be on both the nearside and the offside of the vehicle.

I have modified three of my cars to provide a second rear fog light. One required the addition of an extra piece of wire but the others just need a bulb fitted. My present car has one rear fog light and a reversing light at the other side, so I have been denied to opportunity to improve the safety. On the positive side, it does have duplicated tail lights.

I agree with all you say and have had several whinges about daft LED lighting. Used sensibly, it is worthwhile but there is no need to treat cars like Christmas trees. 🙁

Thank goodness that car designers have introduced some excellent safety features.

Drivers who keep their foot on the brake at traffic lights who have large bright clusters of lights on the rear almost blind you sometimes. Don’t know what the model was, but following a car recently with very bright clustered rear lights, it was almost impossible to see the brake lights.

As for reversing lights, I touch the brake pedal to light up the side of my drive when reversing as there is insufficient light from the reversing light.

I suspect that might happen more with autos, where most drivers pause at lights, etc. by simply keeping their foot on the brakes.

Another useful device on my automatic is “auto hold”, optionally selected, that holds the car from creeping or slipping back when temporarily stopped without me doing anything. No bright brake lights there.

The Highway Code informs drivers not to keep their foot on the brake when stationary and to use the handbrake. As Malcolm points out there are alternatives to the traditional handbrake.

The reason that there not as many cats eyes is the patent on them has run so anybody make or they desire to do so,they don’t make them any more in Halifax,still miss them ,.

So do I Anthony.

Michael Wadsworth says:
26 February 2017

I think I heard or read somewhere that cats eyes were being discontinued when the roads in question were repaired, either for cost reasons or because some jobsworth thought them unnecessary.