Calls for the removal of white lines from UK roads have been met with caution by the fleet industry and criticised by road safety experts.
The Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA) labelled the move misleading and “fatally flawed”, rubbishing claims that erasing markings from busy roads has the effect of slowing motorists down.
George Lee, chief executive of the RSMA, said: “There is little or no proof that removing road markings makes roads safer or that drivers confused by a lack of clear guidance are somehow safer drivers.”
Respondents to a Fleet News poll agreed, with nine out of 10 unconvinced that their removal would improve road safety.
“We can all only hope that for the sake of innocent road users it does not turn out to be fatally flawed,” said Lee.
It’s almost 100 years since the first white lines were painted on a Birmingham street to improve road safety.
Following complaints by residents over reckless driving and several collisions, the Sutton Coldfield Corporation decided to paint the white centreline on the hazardous corner, in 1921.
Gradually, they have become a standard feature on almost all roads in the UK, with official guidance recommending they only be omitted when the carriageway is rural and not more than 5.5 metres wide.
However, Transport for London (TfL) and others have argued that, in some instances, the removal of centre lines could be good news for road safety.
A study conducted by Wiltshire County Council between 1997 and 2003 found that not reinstating the centrelines on a number of resurfacing sites led to a reduction in collisions and traffic speeds.
This in turn built on referenced research by TRL (the Transport Research Laboratory), which concluded that there are safety benefits to be gained by removing centrelines in 30mph zones.
More recently, sections of three roads – one in central London and two in Croydon – were the subject of a trial by TfL in 2014.
It concluded that the study and analysis showed there was a “statistically significant reduction” in vehicle speeds.
However, Dave Nichols, professional engagement officer at Brake, said: “We remain unconvinced by the evidence that removing white lines will make our roads safer.
“While crashes at lower speeds can mean fewer deaths and serious injuries, this data only seems to look at a possible reduction in average speed and not the number and nature of any collisions.”
The idea of removing road markings follows the principles of so-called ‘shared space’ schemes, where physical boundaries such as kerbstones and railings between the carriageway and footpaths are removed to slow down drivers.
About 100 roads have been adapted in Britain, but a survey last year found that two thirds of people rated their experience as poor.
Addison Lee, which operates a fleet of some 5,000 private hire cars in London, was equally cautious about rolling out the removal of white lines.
“White central lines are an extremely important road safety feature in certain environments,” said Catherine Faiers, Addison Lee’s chief operating officer.
“There has been some interesting research, however it needs to be fully assessed and further research carried out before it [the removal of white lines] is more widely adopted.”
A report by TfL on the London trial suggested that white lines gave drivers a “sense of confidence” that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road.
“Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds,” it said.
“Speeds of individual vehicles appeared to be particularly lower when they were passing other vehicles travelling in the opposite direction.”
This, it claims, supports the theory that “uncertainty and additional cautiousness” is responsible for the speed reduction.
Lesley Slater, business development director at LeasePlan, says evidence suggests that removing not only central white line markings, but other traditional safeguards, from road signs to traffic lights and even pavements, reduces the accident rate and improves traffic flow.
“These studies demonstrate the need to review this thinking and we would welcome any changes that ensure the roads are a safer place for all its users,” she said.