You’ve probably heard of smart motorways, but what about smart cat’s eyes?
It’s a new technology that’s being put to the test at one of England’s notorious collision hotspots to prevent drivers from drifting out of their lanes and crashing into other motorists.
The intelligent cat’s eyes light up in response to changing traffic lights – turning a major roundabout into what looks like an airport landing strip. It is the first time they’ll be installed at a motorway junction in a bid to improve safety, Highways England said.
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Smart idea: The LED road studs are linked to the traffic lights. When the lights go green the lane marking will be illuminated so drivers aren’t confused about which lane they need to be in
Around 170 of the innovative LED lights are being added to Switch Island junction in Merseyside, where the M57, M58 and three A roads merge together, as part of a £3 million project.
The intelligent ‘road studs’ – the new name given now that the term cat’s eyes is being scrapped because foreign drivers took the term literally and believed they were made from real animal parts – will be used to help 90,000 motorists navigate the confusing junction every day.
Cables laid below the road surface connect the studs to traffic lights through a nearby automatic controller unit.
When the lights turn green the LED lights will separate the lanes for the flow of traffic so that drivers don’t drift over the white lines as they negotiate the multiple-exit roundabout.
Clearview Intelligence, the provider of the system, assures people that the studs are visible up to 1,000 metres away and have already proven to reduce accidents at a number of locations where they’ve been deployed in the UK.
Collisions at some of the junction with the smart cat’s eyes fitted have been halved, the technology provider claimed.
Around 170 of these Smart LED lights will need to be added at the Merseyside roundabout, which will take up to a year to install
Some 90,000 motorists navigate the confusing Switch Island junction every day
Highways England has already installed the LED studs at Hindhead Tunnel in Surrey to guide drivers through the tunnel and similar lights have been used at the A2 and A20 junction in Kent, A41 in Chetwynd and Sheriffhall roundabout in Edinburgh.
However, the Switch Island scheme will be the first time they have been linked to traffic lights at a motorway junction, the government-owned company said.
Phil Tyrrell, project manager at Highways England, commented: ‘We’re always looking for new ways to further improve journeys and safety for drivers, and I hope the new intelligent cat’s eyes will help better guide drivers around Switch Island.
‘The innovative light-up road studs along with the other improvements we’re introducing will make it much easier to navigate the junction, benefitting the tens of thousands of drivers who travel through it every day.’
Clearview Intelligence, which provides the smart cat’s eyes, said the technology can cut collisions by half
The LED lights on the motorway won’t look too dissimilar to those used on runways at major airports
Creating the airport-runway style lighting system is being funded by the government’s £220 million congestion relief programme with the installation due to commence from 5 February and is expected to take around a year to complete.
According to collision statistics, 49 accidents have occurred at the junction in the past two years – an average of one every fortnight.
New traffic lights will also need to be installed to connect to the smart road studs, all of which will be set higher so they’re easier for HGV and bus drivers to see.
Who invented road cat’s eyes?
Cat’s eyes were invented by Percy Shaw in 1933 after he was driving down a steep winding road in West Yorkshire and noticed his headlights reflect in the eyes of a cat.
He realised the potential of improving road safety if he could create a reflecting device that could be fitted to road surfaces and came up with his cat’s eye invention.
Jerry McConkey, Sefton Council’s transportation and highway infrastructure service manager, said: ‘We have worked closely with Highways England and Merseyside Police to look at the issues at Switch Island and develop improvement proposals.
‘As a result, we are delighted that these important safety measures are about to be introduced with Highways England implementing the latest technology solutions.
‘This will further improve safety and give drivers a much higher level of confidence when negotiating this busy junction.’
Managing director at Clearview Intelligence – based in Sheffield – Nick Lanigan added: ‘The introduction of intelligent road studs, reacting to traffic light changes on a busy roundabout is a continuation of the traditional cat’s eye legacy but takes advantage of new technology available.
‘The new studs have been proven to reduce lane transgression by over 50 per cent in certain conditions so it’s a great way to help improve the safety for all road users.’
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