A Brief History of Road Surface Marking and Striping

Oct 15, 2015

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Road surface marking is important because it conveys official road information. They are used to delineate areas for different uses, such as in parking spaces and other designated areas for the use of loading and unloading.

On paved roads, road surface marking is essential in conveying direction and guidance to drivers and pedestrians. The uniformity of these markings and striping is absolutely imperative in avoiding confusion that can cause hazardous accidents. The standardization of these official road markings is a responsibility carried across all borders to help motorists and pedestrians understand the language of the road wherever they may be.

How did road surface marking and striping begin? Here, we outline its brief history to aid in our understanding of road rules and language.

1911 – The first documented use of a painted centerline was recorded along Trenton’s River Road in Wayne County, Michigan at around this time. It was Michigan’s Edward N. Hines, the chairman of the Wayne County’s Board of Roads, who first insisted that there had to be a solid demarcation line on the county’s roads. He came to this conclusion after seeing a milk wagon leave a white trail along a road.

Hines was posthumously inducted to the Michigan Transportation Hall of Honor for this innovation, along with the receipt of many other Design for the Future awards.

1917 – The use of painted centerlines on rural state highways became mandatory in the states of Michigan, Oregon, and California. Engineer Kenneth Ingalls Sawyer spearheaded the project of painting a white center line on the highway we now know as County Road 492 in Marquette County, Michigan.

On April of the same year, a yellow centerline was painted across the Columbia River Highway. Deputy Peter Rexford, the sheriff of Multnomah County at that time, spearheaded this project. They decided to use yellow paint after seeing that white paint was not as visible during dark and stormy nights.

During the fall of the same year, Dr. June McCaroll of Indio, California pushed the advocacy for centerlines on the road after she got into a road accident with a truck. She went to the Chamber of Commerce and the Riverside County Board of Supervisors but her concerns were dismissed. Not to be swayed, she then proceeded to hand-paint a white stripe down the middle of the road. In celebration of her citizen heroism, a portion of Interstate 10 has been named “The Dr. June McCaroll Memorial Freeway.”

1954 – A longstanding debate on which color to use finally ended on this year, when 47 stated finally agreed to use white as the standard color for highway center lines. Oregon was the last state to use yellow painted lines.

1971 – However, this ruling was overturned in 1971 when the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices was released. The manual had announced the use of yellow as the standard color of centerlines across all states of the nation. The paint changeover was accomplished between 1971 and 1975.

Yellow gained the favor of standardization because it was already the standard color for warning signs. To polish the distinction further, yellow was officially used when dividing opposing traffic, while white was maintained to divide traffic flowing in the same direction.

2014 – Over the years, states have experimented on more earth-friendly approaches to road marking and striping. It was discovered that bright yellow paint contained lead chromate, which was highly toxic and needed special precautions before application.

In November 2014, a glow-in-the-dark bicycle path was created in the Netherlands. They used luminous paint that was non-toxic with the intention of decreasing urban light pollution in their country. They say that the glow-in-the-dark bike path was inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. 

Today, road markings and striping continue to serve a very important role in daily traffic flows and road designations. Not only do they promote navigational ease and efficiency, they also enforce road safety and environmental awareness among many drivers and pedestrians.

Do you need some road striping work in your area? Contact IC Striping at 1-877-361-4400 to know more about our different industrial commercial striping services. You can also request for a quote here.

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