Technology is evolving faster than ever, and most would agree that it has vastly improved our way of life. One of the newest ideas that have the tech and automotive industries abuzz is the prospect of self-driving cars. Several car manufacturers have already made this a reality and are testing self-driving prototypes on the road. Google’s fully autonomous cars have logged more than one million test miles on American roads, and automakers such as Mercedes, BMW and Tesla have released cars with some, albeit limited, abilities to drive themselves. Even truck manufacturers have joined the race to a self-driving world: Freightliner, a Daimler subsidiary, unveiled the first legal self-driving lorry last spring, and it’s currently undergoing road testing.
So, what’s the key to the success of the self-driving car? White lines. Well, lines aren’t the only factor these cars depend on to operate, but road markings play an important role in how the cars drive themselves. Radar, sensors and software combine to help the car “locate” itself on the road, and road markings allow the car to stay on course and obey traffic laws. Clear white lines may be more important than other factors: Freightliner CEO Martin Daum has claimed, “the only thing the truck needs for its self-driving circuits to kick in is ‘nice white stripes’”.
Could self-driving cars operate on roads without white lines? Maybe, but it’d probably be more difficult and/or costly for manufacturers to design cars that could safely operate on roads without lines. This leads to an interesting discussion, particularly in the UK, as the government is now testing the removal of white lines from the middle of some roads to improve driver safety. Research from the TfL shows that the removal of white lines causes drivers to drive more cautiously and cut speeds. On the other hand, organisations such as the AA are adamant that central white lines save lives. Regardless of which side of the white-line debate is correct, one thing is for certain: the removal of white lines may impede the evolution of new technologies such as self-driving cars, which have the ultimate goal of increasing road safety.