A Brief History Of Pavement Traffic Markings

14 December 2015
 Categories: Construction & Contractors, Articles


If you have a driver's license and drive on public roads in the United States, you probably take pavement markings for granted. They direct traffic, alert you to changes in the road and even tell your where you can park. It may seem strange to you to think that nearly a 100 years ago they didn't exist. While the first gas powered automobile in the United States went on sale in 1896 and sold a whopping 13 automobiles before the Duryea Motor Wagon Company closed it doors, it was another 15 years before the first pavement markings appeared. If you are interested in history, you may find the history of pavement markings and traffic signs intriguing.

When did they begin marking pavement?

The first pavement marking consisted of a white line down the center of the road in 1911. Edward Hines, the Road Commissioner for Wayne County in Michigan was reportedly inspired when he observed a trail of milk left in the road by a leaky milk wagon. He then ordered painting a white line down the middle of the road to keep traffic separated, reports the Detroit Free Press.

When did standard pavement marking begin?

By the early 1920s the need for standard pavement markings and traffic signs became obvious. A group of representatives from Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota set out to develop standard pavement markings and traffic signs. They toured several states to gather information. In 1932, they reported their findings to the Mississippi Valley Association of Highway Departments (MVASHD). This led to the design for the first traffic signs including the current stop sign used today. However, it should be noted that the original stop sign was yellow not red.

Although regulations on uniform traffic signs were addressed in both the Association of State Highway Officials' (AASHO) report in 1924 and its later publication in 1927, no official word pavement markings existed until 1935 when the first Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was published outlining some common pavement markings. At that point pavement markings included:

  • Center lines: Center lines were required at all hill crests when the view was less that 500 feet, sharp curves, on pavements wider than 40 feet and on all curves with restricted views.

  • Center line Color: The color of center lines depended on the contrasting surface and could be white, yellow or black.

  • Line Size: Pavement marking lines were restricted to between 4 and 8 inches wide.

  • Stripes and Dashes: These must be uniform in length.

Revisions to the MUTCD

  • 1948: A revision in 1948 removed black from the options for pavement markings. Both yellow and white were still allowed. Black had declined in use due to black outs during the war that made them invisible.

  • 1962: White was eliminated as an option for marking center lines. All center lines must be marked in yellow. White was still approved for other purposes.

  • 1971: Red lines to mark roadways that could not be entered was introduced.

  • 1978: Left edges of rural highways were required to be marked with a solid yellow line to improve vision and safety.

  • 1988: This version consolidated all revisions to the 1978 version and clarified center line and edge markings. It contained 120 regulation changes.

  • 1993: This version set the standards for minimum level of retro-reflectivity in pavement markings and updated wording from the 1988 version.

Pavement markings on public roadways have enjoyed over 100 years of progress and will likely continue to change and evolve with the times. To keep up with the current pavement markings and their meaning contact your local Department of Motor Vehicle. For more information about pavement markings, contact a company like Curtis Clean Sweep.