SOME years ago a female motorist was driving, after sunset, towards Shaftesbury Square in Belfast whilst on her way home to Bangor.
A policeman stepped out into the road and directed her to pull over and stop by the kerb. He asked her where she was going, and he posed the question that if she was going down into the coal cellar at home, what would she need to take with her.
After she had suggested a coal scuttle and shovel, he asked what else she would need, to which she replied, “A light”.
So he advised her to switch on her lights in order that she would then be able to see her way home more safely.
In The Wizard of Oz there is a Yellow Brick Road; and there are a few actual yellow brick roads in the world today. But a roadway doesn’t have to be painted in a bright colour to make it safe. Yet motorists do need all the help they can get. For example, ‘sat nav’ would now be regarded by many as an essential piece of motoring kit.
By far one of the most essential aids to safe motoring is good lighting, both effective lights on a vehicle and a road that is well illuminated. Years ago I recall seeing a photo of one of the first and best lit streets in these islands, namely the wide main street of Aughnacloy.
The Romans had an economical use of words when they exclaimed, fiat lux: let there be light! In England in 1933, Percy Shaw invented what were called ‘cat’s eyes’, a retroflective device used for marking the centre of the road, and his invention is now used all over the world. ‘Cat’s eyes’ are flexible and pliable and, after a shower of rain, even wash themselves in the up and down motion caused by passing traffic.
Similar reflectors fitted at the sides of roads serve to delineate the actual edges of the roadway and sometimes serve as lane dividers; and ‘cat’s eyes’ are particularly helpful in foggy conditions.
If you travel at night on the M1 and A4 from Belfast to Enniskillen, the road markings are, for the most part, totally invisible and the condition of lighting for the highway is deplorable. If this were a main thoroughfare in England it would be clearly lit for much of its length by central lighting, or at least lights along the sides of the road.
On the A4, many of the ‘cat’s eyes’ cannot be seen or are absent altogether; and there are no clear, orange or green reflectors marking the actual sides of the road, which in mist, rain or simply on a dark night, and with oncoming bright vehicle headlights, is highly dangerous and potentially disastrous.
The prevention of road accidents by the installation of ‘cat’s eyes’ everywhere is considerably cheaper in the long run than the combined cost of fatalities and injuries just waiting to happen on the roads of Northern Ireland.
The Stormont Minister for Regional Development has a duty to see that the roads are in a safe condition, and it is a matter of the greatest urgency for comparatively inexpensive reflectors to be installed immediately, and regularly maintained, on all our main roads in the interests of public safety.
Neil C Oliver