Way too old
White metal pieces (for roadside assistance) or cat’s eyes (a cat’s eye is a retro-reflective safety device used in road marking and was the first of a range of raised pavement markers) placed on roads to track vehicle routes and sometimes to ‘warn’ motorists to slow down in certain areas are among the top ten British innovations over time. The choice of this piece as Britain’s best invention is strange, but finding out why will remove the oddity.
The British inventor Percy Shaw (1890-1976) invented the cat’s eye in 1934. It was made of two pieces of glass reflecting two faces in a direction or the two directions of the road in a semi-dome of rubber or hard metal, resistant to damage and breakage and withstand any climatic conditions.
It is called cat’s eye because they light up as cat’s eyes when light falls on them at night.
The benefit of the cat’s eye appeared first during the Second World War when Hitler decided to raid big British cities at night and bomb them, to force the British government to be subjected to his demands.
This was important to help identify the roads at night, after the cities were forced to turn off all the lights including the street lights to make it difficult for warplanes to spot people, and at the same time allow military vehicles, ambulances and emergency workers to work with utmost efficiency, especially that vehicles were required to dim headlights by painting black the upper half to protect them from the German bombers.
The cat’s eye, even in the case of heavy fog, contributed to the flow of services, the continuation of resistance and saving many lives.
The use of this invention has developed over time and many countries have manufactured it in various shapes and sizes and different materials, in red reflective light on the shoulders of the road, green to the entrances and exits of the roads and the blue to identify the parking places, police cars and ambulances, slippery entries of roads and exits and so on.
The invention came to Kuwait, like other countries of the world, and became part of the specifications of the construction of roads. Over time, the ‘nails’ were densely used, and we found them planted in thousands on the airport road, before removing them, and on the exits of highways.
Many of the broken cat’s eyes damaged the wheels of the vehicles, and I personally paid a lot because of the cheap quality material used on the roads or because of their placement in wrong places, and improper horizontal ways on the roads.
To stop the intensive and bad use of this material, I contacted the director of the Roads Authority and told him to place these ‘nails’, or the cat’s eyes everywhere, especially in a horizontal manner, in the Authority’s projects especially since compulsory directions are bad and futile.
I suggested to him, and to another traffic official in the General Traffic Department to reduce their ‘indiscriminate’ use in future roads, but he was not very satisfied with my ‘suggestion’. He did not come up with a good reason, and I don’t know what the real reason behind this is.
By Ahmad Al-Sarraf