The government-run organisation in charge of England’s motorways is working on new technology to make road markings less confusing. Highways England is looking at technology that will prevent so-called ‘ghost markings’ appearing when road layouts are changed or roadworks are underway.

According to the organisation, removing road markings can leave the original lines visible, particularly in bright sunshine. Highways England is trying to tackle the issue with a £685,000 trial on the M5 in south-west England, where seven new products are being tested.

After testing at a centre in Madrid, Spain, the markings were driven over around two million times to find the best products for “skid resistance and performance”. The best seven ideas then went forward for testing on the M5’s northbound carriageway between junction 20 (Clevedon and Nailsea) and 18 (Avonmouth).

One approach used is to apply a black baseline first before adding the white line, which also fills in some of the undulations in the road, preventing the marking from penetrating the surface too deeply. Highways England also claims the method provides “greater contrast” between the marking and the road, which will be an improvement for autonomous vehicles.

“The trial will continue until April but the results so far have been very promising and the safety benefits are already clear,” said Martin Bolt, Highways England’s head of lean and continuous improvement. “We are very optimistic that we have identified some effective solutions to a worldwide problem.

“We know that people find the ghost lines confusing but these new methods could make this issue disappear, creating safer journeys for drivers. They will also prevent damage to the road surface saving time and money. We have certainly gaining a greater insight into the materials and processes we, and the road industry, could be using in future schemes.”

Meanwhile Tom Tideswell, the head of innovations at Kier Highways, which is part of the team running the trial, said the ghost markings could cause accidents. Removing the issue, he said, would make motorway journeys safer.

“Ghost markings are confusing to road users which can lead to poor lane discipline through no fault of their own and, in worst case scenarios, cause incidents to occur,” he said. “During the trials, the five innovative road markings removal systems demonstrated their capabilities and have since provided very positive results which could lead to eradicating this issue and create safer journeys for road users.

“They will also reduce the scarring/pothole creation by being less intrusive to the carriageway which in turn improves journey reliability by reducing the amount of closures required to carry out repairs in addition to saving money.”

Roadworks cone flashing on UK motorway at night