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The History of Road Markings

The History of Road Markings

  • Road markings have a relatively recent history, emerging in the UK just after the turn of the 20th century.
  • The introduction of central white lines began in Birmingham in 1921, initially to address reckless driving and collisions.
  • Cat’s eyes, invented in 1934, significantly improved road safety by enhancing visibility, particularly in low-light conditions.
  • Road markings continued to evolve, with the introduction of lane markings in 1944 and yellow lines in the 1950s to regulate parking and traffic flow.
  • Modern road markings form a complex system continually undergoing expansion and refinement.

Straight roads as we know them have been around for over two thousand years, thanks to the Romans.

Road markings, however, are more of a recent invention.

In this article, the Northern Marking team will be taking a deep dive into the history of road markings in the UK.

close up of white line road markings

The Introduction of road markings in the UK

Just after the turn of the 20th century, more and more cars were starting to use the British road network, and by 1918, road markings were slowly introduced.

Here in the UK, the idea of creating a central white line in the road was first tested in Birmingham in 1921.

The first central white line was marked on Maney Corner in Maney by the Sutton Coldfield Corporation after people in the local area had complained about the reckless driving and the number of collisions that had been occurring.

By 1926, the central white line marking became official, but it would take another decade before it was acknowledged in any legal sense by the First Ministry of Transport. During the 1930s, road markings became even more common and developed further.

During this time, white lines were used increasingly as stopping lines at junctions, while traffic lights or police were utilised in order to better manage the flow of traffic.

The introduction of cat’s eyes

If you’ve driven on a motorway, you will have seen cat’s eyes, the little reflective bumps that light up as you drive past them.

These were actually invented by Percy Shaw in 1934 after an encounter with a cat on a misty evening.

Cat’s eyes have been extremely helpful in bolstering road safety, making it much easier for motorists to see white lines in the dark or on days with low visibility.

yellow road marking arrow

How road markings developed

By 1944, road markings were now also being used on the sides of the road in order to give motorists a full lane that they can stick to.

This was also influenced by the blackout in WW2, which led the government to find ways for pedestrians to safely walk down carriageways.

During the 1950s, yellow lines were introduced in order to establish rules and restrictions surrounding parking, loading and unloading, and waiting.

The idea here was to improve traffic flow whilst giving pedestrians access to pavements at all times. Prior to these changes, there were no restrictions in place and, as you can imagine, things were quite chaotic!

Other changes during this time included the introduction of double white lines on certain roads to indicate to drivers that it was too dangerous to overtake, and yellow box markings at junctions to make it clear where drivers needed to wait.

Today, road markings are part of an extremely complex system that is still being expanded and tweaked.

To learn more about today’s road markings, take a look at this article.

Northern Marking is based in Manchester, but provides services to clients in the following areas; Huddersfield, Blackburn, Rochdale, Preston and beyond. Northern Marking is a leading road marking company, providing the following services; line marking, school & playground markings, warehouse markings, electric car parking space marking, line removal, white lining and car park markings.

Northern Marking is one of the only independent, local council-approved road marking contractors in the Manchester area.

We serve both private companies as well as local authorities, so if you have some line marking work that needs doing and you want to find the best people for the job, look no further than our expert team!

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