NECESSITY is the mother of invention, it’s said, and a good example of it may be about to herald the biggest road safety breakthrough since Percy Shaw, of Halifax, Yorkshire, invented cat’s eyes.
Fears of increased night-time road danger and casualties in the wake of the mass switch-off of street lights right across Europe as a money-saving measure have made glow-in-the-dark roads a reality.
The process uses the same sort of paint technology that makes some wristwatches luminous and it is being pioneered on a stretch of road in southern Holland.
The idea was the brainchild of a group of Dutch artists who have long been making use of the special paint and they have succeeded in involving the country’s biggest road-builder in trialling the stuff on tarmac.
Councils switching off street lights had expressed concern about the possible additional accident casualties that would result from the extra hours of darkness.
Peter De Man, head of the technical department of the artists’ organisation, said: “Essentially, they were asking how much a person’s life is worth. We as artists don’t agree with that so we wanted to do something positive.”
Roadbuilders Heijmans Infrastructure are now testing the paint to make sure it actually stays glowing for the length of a northern European night and doesn’t rub off. “It needs to last five to 10 years,” said Mr De Man.
“Yes, it’ll cost more, but then if councils are making substantial savings on the light switch-off, they won’t mind paying over the odds for the safety of glowing road markings – or so the theory goes.”
The stretch of road to be used to test-bed the paint will have the lanes and the edges of the carriageways marked out with glowing paint.
There will also be a reactive covering for the tarmac that reveals snowflake graphics when the temperature drops below a given point, warning motorists of danger from a lower grip surface, such as where there is ice.
The glow-in-the-dark covering works through absorbing sunlight, charging the special compound in the paint and releasing a luminescent glow during the night.
Given that the UK is subject to the same street light switch-off, the paint could well find its way on to British roads. A recent survey showed 26 of England’s 27 county councils have flicked the switch on their region’s street lamps, some as early as 8pm.