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Development of Cats Eyes in Improving Road Safety

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Engineering
Wordcount: 995 words Published: 18th Oct 2021

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Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations, is a key theme that will be explored in this paper. The road safety invention was made due to problems first being spotted when driving across country roads with no source of light to guide drivers who are already nervous from these narrow unpredictable roads. Percy Shaw, an English inventor, and businessman wished for a solution to these problems after almost getting into a serious accident whilst driving. This incident led him to create the “cats-eye” or what some now call the reflective road studs in 1934 and further led him to create a company to manufacture the invention.

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Queensbury road was the arduous road that Mr Shaw was driving down leading him to put together his futuristic invention. Whilst driving down the road with a very steep drop to one side, out of nowhere a cat had appeared looking at the car which reflected his headlights on to him allowing Mr Shaw to take action and remain on the road. This may not have been the exact moment that inspired the invention of the cat's eyes, however it is where the lights get there name from. It has also been said that he came to the idea when seeing light reflecting from his cars headlamps by tram tracks on the road on a foggy night, also allowing the maintenance of the correct position on the road. Due to these scenarios, he came up with the idea of reflected studs on the roads.

Cats eyes were designed in the United Kingdom and are now used all over the world, for example in the United States, Ireland, Lebanon and many more. The design consists of a pair of reflective glass which is fixed into a white rubber dome and mounted in a cast iron housing. The flexible rubber dome is what protects the device from heavy traffic. The rubber dome is also further protected from impact damage by metal kerbs. Finally, a fixed rubber wiper cleans the surface of the reflectors as they are below the surface of the road. The base also holds water after rain making the process more efficient.

These reflective studs have many purposes – the main being to aid visibility when poor or on unlit sections of roads or in a heavy fog. New studs can be seen from up to one kilometre in advance. There are five main colours used and the most common light you will see is the standard white marking individual lanes or the middle of a road. There are also the following:

  • Red studs mark the left edge of the road.
  • Amber studs mark the central reservation of a dual carriageway or motorway.
  • Green studs mark the edge of the main carriageway at slip roads.
  • Green/yellow studs indicate temporary adjustments to lane layouts.

The question is have these studs statistically made a difference to road safety and have lives been saved and accidents been prevented. We can demonstrate the importance of Mr Shaw’s invention through statistics and cases where the studs have been shown to guide drivers. One source stated ‘The new studies have been proven to reduce lane transgression by over 50% in certain conditions, so it is a great way to help improve the safety for all road users’. This is because they markings provide a clear guide to drivers. However, this has not always been the case as in some cases the studs can also be hazardous causing deaths. House of Lords was questioned about the safety of cats eye due to accidents that have occurred due to the presence of the road studs. One major incident causing the death of a passenger took place when a van had dislodged the steel body of a cat’s eye which flew through the windscreen of a car nearby hitting a passenger in the face killing her instantly. This accidental death was overlooked as investigators were aware that cat eyes had come loose previously but should be ignored as an accident like this had never been transpired before. The long term integrity and performance of the stud was upheld.

There have been adaptations to the original studs in hopes to make them even better however many have failed. A famous example which has helped to divide traffic moving in opposite directions during roadworks are the plastic traffic pillars that are inserted into the socket of a retractable cat's eyes rather than being free-standing. Another example being solar-powered cats eyes known as solar road studs showing red of amber led to traffic. These are placed at dangerous locations. However, due to the LED which flashes at a very fast rate reports have been found that epileptic fits had occurred in response to them and thus the highways agency had suspended the devices. This later got uplifted in Durham as it was shown that flashing blue LED road studs alerted drivers to potential ice on roads preventing more accidents. These solar LED road studs can also be seen 1000 kilometres ahead of drivers and are more advantageous over cats eyes as the solar panel technology is more eco-friendly. These studs cost £30 and can last for around 10 years, in contrast to cats eyes which are ten pounds each and last near 3 years and are less concerned for the environment compared to the solar panelled studs. Further improvements were to change the standard white light to amber for four seconds after the passing of a vehicle or red if the following vehicle is too close or traffic ahead is stationary. These further improvements show how much technology is constantly developing and in this case all from a simple device used to enhance light on dark country roads.

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