Seven facts about roads that will fuel your intrigue

They’re a part of our everyday life, and we don’t have to think about them much. They’re just kind of, there, to be driven on and walked beside.

But there’s a lot more to them than you might think. Fasten your seat-belts, as we take you on a journey around the UK's roads.

1. We drive on the left because it made it easier to joust

A knight jousting
Luckily, people don’t drive down the road with big pointy sticks out their windows today.

Whilst slightly offensive to the left-handed among us, this is actually true. It was easier for right-handed people to ride their horse on the left and attack their opponent on the right during jousting matches and in battle, and when roads started to be built in Britain this was the design that felt most natural at the time.

It was officially passed into law in the 18th century, when congestion in London got so bad that parliament had to do something to control it. The law first of all just made sure people drove on the left on London Bridge, but in 1835 the Highway Act was passed which meant you had to drive on the left everywhere in Britain.

One notable exception to this rule is at Savoy Court in London. Cars are allowed to drive on the right when entering it because the Savoy Theatre is on the right hand side, and it makes it easier for cabbies to drop off their current rider and pick up a new one without much fuss.

2. A blackout during WW2 ensured the success of catseye road studs

The moon at night
In what was quite literally the darkest of times, light was found.

Catseyes (reflective dots on the road that shine when a car drives past) were the invention of a man from Yorkshire called Percy Shaw. He apparently got the idea for them when he saw his headlights reflected in an actual cat’s eyes on his way home from his favourite pub. However, he had a really hard time convincing people of their benefits - until a nationwide blackout during the World War Two. After that point, sales rocketed for Mr Shaw, at home and abroad, and in 1965 he was an awarded an OBE for services to exports.

3. Catseyes are also self cleaning

2 catseye road studs
Is there anything they can’t do?

No, they don’t lick themselves clean like cats do. The reflective glass is encased in rubber, which, when a car drives past, depresses over the glass and wipes it clean. Nifty.

4. Traffic lights constantly strive to better themselves

Red traffic lights near the houses of parliament
If only my washing machine would do the same.

Essentially, traffic lights are coded in such a way that they can make tiny adjustments to the timings of their cycle, every time new data comes in. This means that at times when there’s an unexpected amount of heavy traffic, like after a concert, they can adapt immediately, to make sure the traffic is flowing in the most efficient way. It may not feel like that when you’re sitting in it, though.

5. You’ve probably run over a sleeping policeman before

the top of a policeman's head, wearing a hat
Don’t start accusing the police of sleeping on the job, mind!

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you’ve seriously injured a copper - ‘sleeping policeman’ is just another word for speed bump.

In New Zealand, they’re called ‘judder bars’, which is a very accurate description of how much it makes you rattle in your car when you drive over one.

6. Zebras and pelicans aren’t the only types of animals that have road crossings - toucans do, too

A toucan sitting on the branch of a tree
The UK’s roads are home to many an exotic animal. In some places, you might even spot a Jaguar!

A toucan crossing allows both cyclists and pedestrians to cross the road at the same time. It got its name as 'two-can' cross. Classic road safety humour.

7. Winter is pothole season

Pothole
One report has said that 1 in 5 local roads in the UK have potholes on them.

Potholes are formed when water seeps into cracks in the road, and then freezes in cold weather. When water freezes, it expands and so it damage the tarmac and cracks it even further, and this process is repeated until a pothole is formed.

Potholes can be very damaging for cars, and very dangerous for anyone who travels on the roads. Driving over one can severely damage a car’s axle and suspension, whilst people cycling can even be thrown off their bikes.

What is code?
revision-guide
What are freezing and melting?
revision-guide
World War Two