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Pavement Markings and Nighttime Rain

When it comes to highways safety features, there are few that are a hundred percent fool-proof. This is because the road isn’t a very friendly place for fools. This is why every driver needs to undergo training and pass an exam before receiving a driver’s license. The highway is the stretch of road where cars move fast, and whether protected by highway barricades, highway cable barriers, or something else, this is still the place where the most fatal road accidents occur.

Such statistics are, of course, expected. However, something that surprises many people is just how fatal driving at night can be without the requisite care. As it happens, 49% of fatal crashes happen at night, and this is down to more factors than just poor visibility. The road is not invisible at night, certainly not on a well-lit highway. Instead, we need to look towards other factors to explain why driving on the highway at night can be more perilous.

Sometimes, the answer isn’t just one cause, but a perfect storm of factors which affect the safety of driving on the highway. Valtir, highway safety product experts out of Addison, Texas, say that it is specifically the combination of the nighttime and the rain which can cause one of the major highway safety perils. This is because the rain at night can make pavement markings particularly difficult to see. Nighttime can reduce visibility in other ways too – for one thing, oncoming headlights can be distracting.

Pavement Markings and the Rain

But why is this? Is water not a translucent substance? If the road is well-lit, why would the addition of rain make highway marking more difficult to see? This is, however, what happens and, to understand why, it is important to look into how pavement markings actually work. This way we can see how the rain can disrupt this.

Pavement lines and markings are normally embedded with retroreflective glass beads that have been designed to reflect the markings directly back to the driver when their headlights are shone upon them. Nevertheless, retroreflective optics come in different kinds, and some of these are better at reflecting light under certain conditions than others are. As you can probably guess then, these potential conditions involve both dry and wet weather, and it is impossible to optimize a set of markings for both.

Normal highway markings in the U.S. are designed – though not optimized – for dry conditions. This quite simply means that they are easier to see when it isn’t wet. The light reflected can be split in different directions, come back with a different intensity, and so on. Pavement markings are not invisible in the rain, but you cannot see them as well.

Of course, when the limited visibility of markings in the rain is added to the fact that it is also nighttime, then it’s easy to see why highway markings could become easy to miss in such wet conditions. Add to this the distracting effect of oncoming headlights, and its easy to see why so many accidents occur under these specific conditions.

The Solution

There might not be a way to achieve optimal visibility in all conditions, but the solution to this problem certainly lies in the development of more versatile technology. Both the markings and the car headlights being shone on them are being constantly developed with this issue in mind. Wet reflective pavement markings have been developed for rainy areas, and there are now headlights on cars that can switch between different lights optimized for different conditions. If there is a way around this problem, it certainly lies there.

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