/ 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

This hasn’t been a problem for me, though all road markings seem to disappear in thick fog and then one can only drive with great caution and hope no one rams from behind. A small stretch of one motorway was, briefly, supplied with solar, self-illuminating cats eyes. These were brilliant in every sense, but they gradually disappeared and were never replaced. A cats eyes patent gave the inventor a penny for each one made, and I believe they are one of the most useful road aids ever invented. Any missing sections should be replaced as a matter of course and we shouldn’t have to report this problem.

Geoff Sheddick says:
25 January 2017

IMHO, fully functioning Cats’ Eyes transform night time and bad weather driving safety. Sadly, all too often, they do not seem to be replaced unless the road is re-surfaced, irrespective of whether or not the Cats’ Eyes themselves have lost much of their reflective capability, or have failed altogether.
The next best thing is of course regularly re-painted centre-line, lane, and road edge white lines, but the maintenance [aka repainting] of these on non-motorway roads is abysmal in Buckinghamshire – often not done until long after they have become virtually invisible even in daylight!
I have indeed tried reporting such worn away white lines to BCCHighways on a dangerous T junction, but it was many months before they were re-painted, and that appeared to be as a result of other road repairs.

Miles Stapleton says:
25 January 2017

Just one way that the cuts are destroying peoples’ lives.

A sadly uniformed political sound-bite worthy only of a third grade politician at PMQs…
1. Is there a general problem with missing reflectors – some respondents stated that there isn’t.
2. Are any missing reflectors really due to ‘cuts’ or perhaps just the lack of reporting?
3. ‘Destroying people’s lives’? Is there evidence of fatal accidents caused by lack of reflectors?

Cats eyes do make driving at night on an unlit road much more comfortable. Whether the lack of them has led to accidents should not be the only criterion; making the driving task less stressful is a good enough reason as far as I can see, particularly in tricky bits of road.

However, would we rather have cats eyes replaced, or potholes repaired? Or more money put into social care to release hospital beds? Personally I rather see extra money raised locally that was ringfenced for specific important jobs. A local income tax or a sales tax would be my contenders. We have to pay for what we need.

Scottie says:
31 January 2017

Try driving abroad in pouring rain when the reflective line markings are washed out and are difficult to see!

Mario Ropele says:
17 July 2018

SIGLITE is the most durable glass stud (Cat Eye) on the world. SIGLITE tempered glass studs are CE certfied and installed in many European countries except UK.
If interested please let me know.

I have seen plenty of defective cat’s eyes but usually there are enough still working for safety. I guess it depends on how diligent the local council is. I am more concerned that many country roads lack a white line to show the nearside edge of the carriageway, often because it has not been reinstated after repairs.

We can thank Percy Shaw of Halifax for giving us the original glass cat’s eyes with their clever self-wiping mechanism, even though these have largely been replaced by modern reflective plastic versions.

Ian Hill says:
28 January 2017

The original cats’ eyes moved: every time a vehicle ran over it, it swabbed the eyes, and so wore out. Did Percy get another penny? Now the plastic ones are fixed, and I hope they will continue to work and keep clean.

I remember learning about the history of cat’s eyes when visiting a museum near Halifax in the 80s or 90s. There are various accounts online, and you can choose which to believe. Cat’s eyes make an interesting topic for education because they are easy to understand.

A benefit of cat’s eyes that is often ignored is that it is obvious if you veer off-course and start driving over them, later exploited using rumble strips.

Not to be confused with rumble pot holes which might not offer such good guidance.
Reflective road marking paint incorporating glass beads, and tape for more temporary installations, can be quite effective and maybe has displaced cats eyes in some areas. http://www.3m.co.uk/3M/en_GB/road-safety-uk/road-markings/

That’s a good reminder of the recent Conversation about potholes, Malcolm. It might interest those who missed it: https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/potholes-roads-cars-damage-tyres-council-lga/

Our council has installed some LED cats eyes that are remarkably effective – and a bit eerie when you also see them in your rear view mirror. Unfortunately their performance has deteriorated to the point when they are virtually invisible, presumably because the inbuilt solar power supply fails. It would be a good idea to surround the LEDs with retro-reflective panels (that have so effectively replaced Percy’s glass eyes) so there is a back up.

Bobm says:
25 January 2017

Just don’t seem to see the traditional cats’ eyes much nowadays which is a shame. Agree with the comments about the planned LEDs, although I believe there are very few installed – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/11845616/End-of-the-road-for-cats-eyes.html

I was driving in thick fog over Christmas, it was dark too so admittedly it was probably unwise to be out on the roads, it was a saving grace whenever I came across a stretch of road that had working catseyes. The fog was so thick that my fog lights were just bouncing off of it so the catseyes were helping me to see the where the road was going. It really stood out just how many of them weren’t working and being a rural part of the country where there’s not much choice but to rely on roads it felt important that they should be – I’ll see if I can report this to the local authority!

Karen Thomas says:
25 January 2017

Yes, I find that being guided by cats eyes in the dark is a hit and miss affair as not all are the same brightness and quality. I was pleased to see an A road south of Shrewsbury with excellent cats eyes and it was a joy to drive along this road. Conversely, where I live and drive the cats eyes are hard to see. Is this because they are damaged due to traffic flattening them and they need replacing?

Yes cats eyes made a big difference at night but they weren’t only installed on roads . I remember a 1930,s massive stove enameled roadside sign for an upmarket hotel 30 miles away that lasted up to the 60,s , why do I remember it ? because as a child along with another boy we prised some of the cats-eyes out of it to keep , used to watch cars going along the road at night light up the sign must be the ultimate energy saving advert and early “planet saving ” lighting system.

Yes, a lot of road signs and edge markers had clusters of fruit gum-like glass buttons applied to the surface to catch the approaching headlights. They were also much used on direction arrows and town signs. By the time Motorways came along, new reflective materials had been developed for the signage but the old glass encrusted signs were still in place on many A and B roads for decades afterwards. I can’t believe there are many left now except in motor museums or as historic souvenirs. I remember once, during a gap in the traffic on the A11, digging the cat’s eye out of a road stud – it was quite a heavy and robust bit of kit and the glass ‘eye’ was embedded in a copper sleeve with two lugs like a bayonet fitting.

As the newly knighted Ken Dodd used to joke – he probably still does! – if the inventor of cat’s eyes had seen a cat walking the other way he would have invented the pencil sharpener.

The original catseyes have been improved only a little over the years, and have always been way better than anything that’s come since. They are expensive to buy and install, but once in are almost indestructible and merely need maintenance about once a decade: the core is extracted and replaced with another, then sent to the factory for refurbishment.

No battery or solar panel is needed. The long, efficient glass lens reflects a car’s headlights back extremely efficiently. When vehicles run over them, they depress into the cast-iron shell, which automatically cleans the lens with a rubber wiper – the whole shell is bathed in rainwater.

What’s wrong with them, then? In a word, maintenance. Short-term cost-cutting isn’t a problem, but 30 consecutive years of costcutting means that no maintenance is ever done – it can ‘always wait until the next budget’. And, one by one, they stop working. The fix is cheap and simple: maintain each one! They’re still there, and a new core is a complete fix. But one that no local council dare try, and the Highways Department is refused the budget to do on trunk roads. Instead, cheap plastic stickers are put in as a temporary fix when a road’s completely resurfaced, in the full knowledge that within a few years we’ll all be in danger again.

Lack of catseyes isn’t yet a cause to sue a council or the government – but maybe it ought to be!

I also wonder if fear [cost] of litigation may be a factor as well. With the proliferation of pot hols on some of our roads the possibility of an entire cats-eye becoming detached from the road way must exist. The housing itself is a fairly heavy steel casting that probably weighs a few kg. If an HGV/commercial vehicle rear wheel set [two tyres] picked one up it went through the windscreen of a following vehicle the potential for serious injury/death must be high. Councils with stretched budgets will be very wary of this aspect.

bishbut says:
26 January 2017

Simple thing that actually work are alway replaced by technical things that only seem to work when new and wear out in a very short time Lets go back to the simple days when things lasted and worked for ever The authorities now think cats eyes are out of date and obsolete White lines are cheaper to install and maintain

Burt says:
26 January 2017

I think the reason is due to the fact highways inspectors only inspection the roads during the day where they can see defects. Apart from defective cats eyes of course.

That is probably true, Burt, but they also do scouting at night for street lighting failures so they should be noticing some cat’s eye defects, although cat’s eyes are most needed on unlit rural roads, including Motorways, where scouting is less frequent. I would expect modern camera technology to be used for cat’s eye fault detection these days so that a print-out of a given length of road is produced after each pass enabling accurate replacement. On single-carriageway roads, the cat’s eyes have to work in both directions.

So far as I could tell, the only thing that could go wrong with the the original cat’s eyes was that the glass ‘eye’ in its sleeve could pop out under exceptional pressure of traffic or degradation of the road surface. Since there were two glass ‘eyes’ facing in each direction that still left the unit functional in most instances. Modern designs might be less resilient as traffic volumes and weights have increased beyond their design expectation.

One example of “modern” solar powered road studs with different energy storage methods:
Long Use Life Solar Powered LED Road Delineator Catseye Studs

Battery Type: Ni-Mh Battery Use life 3-5 years Operating time 32 hours after full charged
Li-on Battery 5-8 years 24 hours after full charged
Supper (sic) Capacitor Over 10 years 5 hours after full charged

If these are typical then only the Li-on seems possibly (but not very) useful – 3 years is a silly life, 5 hours is a useless operating time.

The beauty of Percy’s eyes was their simplicity – no energy needed – and durability – glass. I always thought the lens would have a pyramid-shaped back to use total internal reflection, but I believe they were silvered which would deteriorate with time. Newer cats eyes use 3M type retroreflective (corner cube) material as used on road signs – very effective but I don’t know how long they last.

The weak point of cat’s eyes is the rubber which wears. The lifetime will depend on how often a vehicle drives over them, which will depend a great deal on location.

This is an ideal application for capacitors and I am surprised that anyone even considered designs using batteries. I remain to be convinced that they will be cost effective but it would be interesting to find out.

The traditional [and presumably modern equivalent] cat’s eye types without an internal light source are ideal for roads where the traffic is using beam lighting whether main or dipped. I can’t see the need for solar-powered LED cat’s eyes in most highway situations.

I can imagine that the LED types are intended more for industrial sites and container depots where traffic might be moving at slow speeds on lower-level lighting and shadows impair the spread of overhead lighting. They are also probably specified for aerodromes where runways, taxiways and stands need to be permanently delineated in the absence of approaching headlights or overhead floodlighting.

Capacitor capacity seems the downside. We need catseyes to illuminate for the long winter nights, and in the murky weather that might follow, on days when solar charging is limited. It might be better to lay a low-voltage supply in a cable just below the surface and avoid the downsides of solar cells and storage.

By giving the LED-cats one eye, that would double the operating life, and flashing them on/off takes it to four times. It’s all a question of cost and reliability some of the options have not been around for long enough to know if they would be a good option. Maybe other countries are further advanced with tests. I’m a great believer in not being an early adopter when it is my money.

That would reduce their visibility distance and flashing might be bad for some people.

I’m sure that these factors would be checked before they hit the production line. Bigger capacitors are obviously another option. Larger supercapacitors can store enough power to start a car.

Visibility in poor conditions – mist and fog – will require sufficient intensity for them to be effective.

I don’t suppose I am alone in seeing a new Convo and taking an interest in something that I may have given little thought to. For example, the discussion about potholes has kept me looking at the condition of roads and I will be interested to see what state local roads are in when the frosts subside.

This evening most of the cat’s eyes were in good condition, apart from the odd one. I did see a long line of what looked like traditional cat’s eyes that looked intact but were practically invisible in the car headlights. There was a good white line in the centre of the single carriageway road and the cat’s eyes seemed unnecessary since it was a straight road without nearby junctions.

Dave Tolley says:
28 January 2017

One particularly bad place is VIRTUALLY NEW A46 dual carriageway from Newark to Leicester.(Even Google Earth with a 2016 image shows the road still under construction.)
The stretch going south from Bingham, to A606 Nottingham junction virtually all the cats eyes do not work .
The same is true for the north bound carriageway. Even on a clear night with good headlights virtually no cats eyes work. I know this road very well as I live locally and you have to concentrate very hard as the slip roads off the A46 seem to be where the main carriageway bends round to the left going south and right going north.
This gives the visual impression due to lack of cats eyes on the main carriageway that the straight ahead way is up the slipway, not round to follow the main carriageway. This is a very busy road 24 hrs and with oncoming headlights at night it makes matters worse. very Dangerous.

A random snapshot of a supermarket car park yesterday showed that roughly half the cars had dirty number plates, some of them virtually illegible. Since these are also intended to be an aid to night driving it behoves drivers to check them, and their lights, to make sure they are clean. Our car gets just as mucky as most on a short drive to the supermarket when the roads are damp and the atmosphere is misty so we have a pack of floor wipes in the car and a water-spray bottle so they can cleaned before the return journey. It only takes a minute or so. In the neighbouring county of Cambridgeshire the police have started prosecuting drivers for dirty number plates and lights following a recent campaign of issuing cautions. I expect everyone who complains about missing cat’s eyes to have perfectly clear lights and clean number plates.

The design of cars is a major factor and some hatchbacks are poor in this respect. On my present car, the number plates stay reasonably clean but I do have clean the rear view mirrors and sometimes the headlights especially when the roads have been heavily salted.

Traditional cat’s eyes are kept clean by vehicles driving over them. Where there are roadworks and cones are placed in line with cat’s eyes, these soon become dull and ineffective.

My ignorant guess is that the closer the rear wheels are to the back of the car the worse is the dirt on the tailgate. Spray comes off the rear tyres and the back-draught effect of the car’s motion pulls the dirty spray back on to the bodywork. In damp but not wet conditions it sticks, assisted by the surface oils and muck from the road.

On the A338 in The Winterbournes, north east of Salisbury, they resurfaced the road a couple of years ago, but did not replace the cats eyes- they were the original sort. In fact they left the holes where they should have been . My elderly friend crossing the road from the shop to the bus stop caught her foot in one and fell. Still has not been replaced.

Dave says:
28 January 2017

A reverse problem to the cats eyes are the studs used for lane realignments because of road works. Around junctions 10 and11 on the M5 roadworks have been continuing on and off for years. Consequently there have been many lane realignments . The temporary narrow lanes are indicted by flat plastic studs. When the studs are removed for yet another realignment the holes that are left are filled with tar that with sun or rain on it makes it appear to shine. This is also the case with the white lines that are blacked out with the same tar. It is then very difficult to see the latest lane alignment especially where there have been a multitude of these realignments. I would have thought a top dressing of a non reflective powder could be applied while the tar was still sticky to overcome this problem.

kenneth raine says:
28 January 2017

I don’t do enough night driving to comment on the state of cats eyes, invented by a Yorkshireman Percy Shaw of Halifax, a great idea. However the state of the roads is poor, when they are mended they soon corrupt again. If the councils are contracting out it isn’t working, council workers ought to do it then standards can be monitored.

So what exactly are the ‘legal responsibilities’ of the Councils and Highways Agency when it comes to lane markings (eg cats eyes)? I once challenged the temporary lane restriction bollards and signage at a busy junction on the M62 as it made joining the motorway very tricky at rush hour. The response was that there were specific guidelines that had to be followed regarding the signage before a hazard. Allowing an additional few yards would have made joining the motorway much safer but it appears that there was no flexibility for common sense judgements. If temporary signage is ‘regulated’ it seems strange that basic road markings aren’t. It is also interesting that Councils seem to have no problem finding the funds for the overkill of signage which clutters our roads and pavements in city and suburban areas, when they are unable to fund basic road markings.