USA: Crosswalks made with Low Quality Paint or in Pretty Colors are Potentially Deadly

Poor quality paint is dangerously and very frequently used for pavement markings and crosswalks in the USA, in place of more-expensive but vastly-safer thermoplastic materials which have a high-glass-bead content for excellent reflectivity at night and in bad weather.

A photo showing the loaction of two supposedly bright yellow crosswalks but they become invisible in rain at night because of the use of cheap paint.
Two bright yellow-painted crosswalks in Falmouth, MA, from crucial angles invisible during and just after heavy rain at night. The yellow is a futile waste of time if it becomes invisible at certain times! (Copyright image.)

Compare the photo above with the one below.  They are at the same location and were taken less than 12 hours apart.

Daytime photograph of the same crosswalks shown in the above rain-at-night photograph, to show how useless the yellow paint uid, under certain circumstances.
An almost identical view to the “rain at night” photo, above (see the street name and the orange canopy over the distant shop window). So what use is the yellow paint? It could easily get an unsuspecting pedestrian killed! The absence of any crosswalk signs on poles makes matters even worse. (Copyright photograph.)

On a recent two-day AdoNA defensive driving course on which I was instructing in Massachusetts, I was able to photograph some very brightly colored crosswalks which are perfectly visible in daylight but which — as shown above and below — are effectively invisible during heavy rain at night.  Insult was added to injury by the fact that there were no pole-mounted signs at all, to show the presence of the above crosswalks.  And with plenty of parked cars to further reduce the view, the result is significant danger to road users, particularly pedestrians.

A nighttime driver's-eye view of the same Main Street crosswalk as shown in both of the above photographs and showing how it is totally lost to sight.
This is a driver’s-eye view — but taken while I was on foot — of the same Main Street crosswalk as shown in both of the above photographs and showing how it is totally lost to sight.  If you think you can see it, you are mistaken, what you can see are simply reflections of various lights. It was not just the colored crosswalks that suffered this fate. The ‘ladder’ pattern white crosswalks — see below — were equally invisible.  (Copyright image.)

So the last photograph here is a daylight shot of a regular white ladder-pattern crosswalk.  These were equally impossible to see while driving during nighttime rain and I only identified them because I was, by profession, being significantly more cautious than the vast majority of other drivers could reasonably be expected to be.

Daytime photo of a regular, white, ladder-pattern crosswalk on the same street as the above yellow crossing. This one, too, was effectively invisible during nighttime rain, again because of the use of cheap, non-reflective paint (or whatever its technical name might be!).
A regular, white ladder-pattern crosswalk on the same street as the above yellow crossing. This one, too, was effectively invisible during nighttime rain, again because of the use of cheap, non-reflective paint (or whatever its technical name might be!). Copyright image.

I must add I am not “picking on” Falmouth in this post; it is merely one of countless towns and cities that share this problem.  In every context other than terrible paint for its pavement markings, Falmouth is a delightful little town and very pleasant to visit.  This is a much bigger issue; one that needs to be tackled and remedied very promptly, not only by the Federal Highways Administration [FHWA] but by the state of  Massachusetts and by most other states, too.  Poor quality paint for pavement markings sure as heck cannot possibly be compliant with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices [MUTCD], and if it is, it’s an absolute travesty at the national level!

None of the common colors I’ve encountered for crosswalks — yellow, green, blue, dusky pink (or the very similar and presumably expensive alternative of patterned, reddish brickwork) can be expected to work any better than the yellow paint in the above examples.  And even white crosswalks, and all other pavement markings, are a negligent waste of time if made of cheap materials that cannot do a proper job at all times.

Personal Injury attorneys should be all over this dangerous issue like a rash, if that is what it will take to remedy the problem!

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

2 thoughts on “USA: Crosswalks made with Low Quality Paint or in Pretty Colors are Potentially Deadly”

  1. Hi Eddie, this is a problem, not limited to USA but across much of the world. When prescribing products for use as road markings, the specification in many countries does not contain reference to % Ballottini (glass beads), does not specify minimum thickness of application and does not specify conspicuity in dark/wet conditions. The result – markings disappear in darkness and when it rains they might just as well not be there.
    It is well-known that in certain types of street lighting, i.e. sodium vapour and derivatives, yellow turns to black. Hence the UK’s reliance on white markings only.
    I am also a keen proponent of methyl-methacrylate (MMA) markings.
    Throughout the countries where I have worked I have repeatedly asked so-called traffic or safety engineers “what about at night-time?” and am met with a blank stare. Proper carriageway markings and signing are the most cost-effective measures when it comes to crash reduction and yet they and their quality are often completely ignored.
    The problem is twofold – the specification and the site supervision. Even in UK it is generally acknowledged that many contractors do not lay the required thickness. That’s how they can charge such low rates for markings. UK Highways specification requires a thickness of between 4-7mm but often contractors lay less than 3mm.
    Coloured “paint” as specified in many countries is next to useless. It wears away very quickly, has poor colour retention and simply cannot be seen in dark/wet conditions. If it is used on a concrete surfaced carriageway its effectiveness is further reduced.

    1. Thanks for copying and pasting this from Linked-In, Lance; your engineering knowledge is extremely welcome and I hope you will become a regular commenter or even contributor, here on our ADoNA blog page.

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