A pilot program in which the North Carolina Department of Transportation used thermoplastic lane markings to improve roadway delineation and guidance has recently garnered national attention. The newer material, which is more durable and better at reflecting headlights due to embedded glass beads in the plastic paint, was applied to 400 miles of rural, two-lane roads across the state between 2014 and 2017. After installment, NCDOT went on to investigate and evaluate the long-life pavement markings to determine the safety return, longevity, and cost effectiveness.
The study showed how NCDOT was able to significantly reduce serious lane departure crashes by 13% across all sites that were treated with long-life lane markings. All groups of long-life markings not only showed crash reductions, but the best safety results were seen from the wider, 6-inch marking with standard beads – which observed a statistically significant 19% reduction in lane departure crashes. Additionally, the long-life markings were shown to maintain adequare levels of retroreflectivity and the lines are expected to provide five to seven years or more of enhanced roadway delineation.
Lane departure crashes are one of the most fatal and serious injury crash types on our roadways. These crashes comprise 55% of fatal and serious injury crashes in North Carolina with almost 14,000 fatal and serious injury lane departure crashes occurring in the state from 2015 to 2019. NCDOT is responsible for one of the nation’s largest highway systems, with over 80,000 miles of roadway. The department is proactively looking for low cost and high return safety solutions that will help reduce lane departure crashes and drive down fatal and serious injury trends across our large network.
The significant safety results inspired a statewide safety initiative which is currently underway, and millions of dollars are being invested to systemically apply long-life markings to thousands of miles of rural two-lane roadways in North Carolina. Both the Federal Highway Administration and the Roadway Safety Foundation honored NCDOT with a 2021 National Roadway Safety Award.