In an effort to reduce highway fatalities after dark, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is mandating a new minimum standard for pavement marking “retroreflectivity” effective September 6, 2022.
The goal is to ensure that pavement markings are made more visible in dark or low light conditions. Retroreflective material reflects light more effectively back to the human eye, making pavement markings brighter and more easily seen in dark conditions.
Currently, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) requires that pavement markings be visible at night and that all markings on interstate highways be retroreflective, but it does not require a minimum level. By creating one, FHWA believes state and local transportation agencies can reduce the number of severe crashes that happen in dark, unlighted conditions and result in an annual nighttime fatality rate that is roughly three times the daytime fatality rate.
While we do only one quarter of our driving at night, 50% of traffic deaths happen at night, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Moreover, depth perception, color recognition, and peripheral vision can be compromised in the dark, and the glare of headlights from an oncoming vehicle can temporarily blind a driver.
As the NSC notes, even with high-beam headlights on, visibility is limited to about 500 feet, creating less time to react to something in the road, especially when driving at higher speeds.
The new rule aims to save lives by helping drivers see pavement markings more clearly and know what lies ahead, especially in darkness and other instances when visibility is critical, according to the FHWA.
Noteworthy, the new rule is also expected to help reduce crashes by enhancing the ability of advanced driver assistance and autonomous vehicle technologies to identify pavement markings more readily, too.