Everything to do with the roads seems to be getting the ‘smart’ treatment of late – smart motorways, smart cars. Now cats eyes are the latest part of the road network to get the smart treatment with the introduction of smart cat’s eyes, which are being tested in collision hotspots to try and cut down on the number of accidents.
Intelligent cat’s eyes
The new intelligent cat’s eyes will light up in response to changing traffic lights and make major roundabouts look more like airport runways. It is the first time they are being considered for use in this way and are aimed at improving road safety, according to Highways England.
Some 170 of them are being used on Switch Island in Merseyside where the M57, M58 and three A roads all come together, as part of a £3 million project to improve the area. These new ‘road studs’ will be used to help 90,000 motorists manage the confusion of roundabouts. Cables will be laid beneath the road surface to connect the studs to the traffic lights via an automatic controller unit.
Cats eyes in action
When the traffic light turns green, the LED lights will be used to separate the lanes for the flow of traffic. This helps stop drivers crossing the white lines as they manage their way around the multiple exit roundabout.
The provider of the system, Clearview Intelligence, says that the studs are visible around 1,000 metres away and have already proven to reduce accidents in locations around the country where they are being used. In fact, collisions at some of the junctions have been reduced by up to 50%, the company said.
The system is already in use in Hindhead Tunnel, in Surrey, to help guide drivers through the tunnel. The A2-A20 junction in Kent along with the A41 in the Wirral and the Sheriffhall roundabout in Edinburgh have also been fitted with them, to help improve safety. Highways England are aiming for improved journeys and better safety for drivers with the new systems.
The idea of creating runway style roads is part of the government’s program of congestion relief which is due to start this month and has £220 million in funding. It is expected to take around 12 months to complete, in the Merseyside site, and vastly improve the situation – with 49 accidents in the last two years, it averages one every fortnight.
New traffic lights will also be installed to work with the smart road studs, set at a higher location so HGV and bus drivers can see them easier.
Cats eyes or road studs?
You may also notice another change taking place – cats eyes have undergone a rebranding and are now being called road studs. The reason for this is twofold, both quite amusing for drivers. Firstly, tourists are confused by the term and don’t understand warning signs such as ‘warning cat’s eyes removed’ when driving around the UK.
The other reason is that children were worried as they thought they were real cat’s eyes being embedded in the roads – hands up if you remember thinking that when you were a kid?
Most of us probably did because cats eyes have been around that long. The first ones were made back in 1933 by a man called Percy Shaw. He was driving along a West Yorkshire road and saw his lights reflected in the eyes of a cat walking alongside the road. He instantly realised their potential for road safety and came up with the device we are all familiar with. Cats eyes have been noted as one of the top 10 most iconic designs that the UK has ever created!
So, cat’s eyes are being renamed as road studs and smart road studs to help tourists feel more at ease on UK roads, and to stop children having sleepless nights over the mistreated cats! However, for most of us, they will remain cat’s eyes, no matter how smart they become.