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Benefits Of Reflective Hazard Markers: Horizontal Curve Delineation

Reflective hazard markers play a vital role in ensuring that drivers are able to see road curves that appear suddenly or during nighttime hours.  These markers range from retro-reflective material applied to existing guardrails to posts or markers made with the material as an integral component.


A Growing Need to Address Curve Hazards

The numbers of accidents along curving roads has skyrocketed since the mid-1990s, when speed limits were increased nationwide.  A curved road section is five times more likely than a straight section to be the site of a crash.  The differential becomes even greater when drivers are distracted, tired, inexperienced, or impaired by alcohol or drugs.  As road construction continues, the need for effective curve delineation will only increase, particularly in mountainous areas with frequent elevation changes.  Sharp and downward sloping curves are especially dangerous, but curves are unavoidable in many areas due to local topography or drainage needs.  This includes so-called “hairpin curves” along sections of interstate highways such as State Highway 441 at the Tennessee/North Carolina border and AZ 89A in Arizona as it enters Oak Creek Valley.


Curves that appear suddenly pose the greatest dangers to motorists because of the phenomenon known as “highway hypnosis.” This effect slows drivers’ reaction times when confronted with unexpected road conditions.  One UK study determined that sections of roads with many curves often have lower accident rates than straight areas of equal length, possibly due to the higher demands on a driver’s attention, making it difficult for them to be lulled into an “autopilot” state.


Insufficient MUTCD Guidelines

The various versions of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) attempt to set guidelines for marking curves, but to date these efforts have suffered from a lack of clarity on the part of policymakers.  In some locations dangerous curves aren’t marked at all, and in others, posted speeds are either too high or unrealistically low. Authorities have yet to establish a single, effective set of polices to guide traffic planners in dealing with the hazards posed by curves.  One way to address this problem affordably is to use reflective markers before and during curves.  The following is a list of some ways they can be employed:


  • In front of utility poles, trees, and other roadside objects with a history of being struck by automobiles.  In many cases, placing a hazard marker is far easier and more practical than having to remove the object altogether.
  • In conjunction with motion-activated signs or warning beacons ahead of the hazardous section of road.  These signals only turn on when an approaching vehicle is driving at a dangerously high speed.  Studies show that they’re far more effective at preventing crashes than traditional static signs.  In one California location, there was a 44% reduction in the number of accidents in the first year, and a 39% reduction in the second year after installation of warning beacons coupled with reflective markers.
  • Along rural road sections where static signage has proven ineffective at reducing accident rates.  In cases where curves are especially sharp, reflective hazard markers are placed in a continuous pattern along the entire section of the curve, providing a high-visibility warning message to approaching motorists without the high installation and maintenance costs associated with powered, speed-actuated beacons or signs.
  • In conjunction with static markings painted directly onto the road surface.  A message on the pavement reading “CURVE AHEAD” and followed by reflective hazard markers will alert a driver to the upcoming changes.


A Growing Need for Reflective Hazard Markers

Along with many other nations, the older portion of the population of the United States is growing.  With millions of seniors expected to retain their driving licenses well into their 70s and 80s, the need for curve markings will only increase in the years to come.  This is one of the many reasons that safety officials should use reflective hazard markers along with other traffic control products to heighten driver awareness and prevent accidents.