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Have Roads Always Had a Line Painted Down the Center?

By Kevin Hellyer
Updated May 16, 2024
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The idea was so simple, it was bound to be conceived sooner or later. But it took a forward-thinking Michigan man to come up with a concept that has been called “the most important single traffic safety device in the history of auto transportation.” That man was Edward N. Hines, who in 1911 suggested that a center line be painted on roads so that drivers going in opposite directions could stay on the correct side of the road.

According to Wikipedia, Hines came up with the idea in 1911 after watching a milk wagon leave a trail of spilled milk along a road. The Michigan Historical Society, however, says Hines witnessed a near collision between a vehicle and a horse and buggy, and thought a painted line would help prevent future crashes.

Stay on your side!

  • Hines was the chairman of the Wayne County Road Commission in the early 1900s and has also been credited with the construction of the first mile of concrete roadway.

  • The center line made its debut in 1911 on River Road in Trenton, Michigan. It’s been said that Hines also pioneered the concept of removing snow from public roads to help make winter travel safer.

  • Before the implementation of traffic signals, solid white lines were also used to tell drivers where to stop. In more congested areas, policemen were deployed to help direct traffic.

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