Loose Highway Markers Create Road Hazards

Markers can come loose and smash into vehicles

More than 1.3 million safety devices installed across the state -- the small reflectors which illuminate the road in the dark and when it rains -- are designed to keep motorists safe, but some of them actually be a danger to drivers, NBC 5 Investigates has found.

Most of the 102 counties in Illinois use a specially-built reflective marker encased in a metal protective device, which anchors the reflectors into the ground.

Motorists don't normally see the metal portion of the marker, but Gurnee resident Scott Hoffman did. He was driving along U.S Route 41 near Route 137 when he says the chunk of metal came crashing through his windshield.

"A split second later it's flying through my windshield and I'm covered in glass," Hoffman said. "Luckily I grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and I was able to slow down."

"This  would have killed me. It's got sharp edges and it's a three-pound piece of steel."

NBC 5 Investigates found that in cities with extreme weather, the reflective markers are often encased in metal. But transportation experts say harsh winters followed by brutal heat can weaken the metal reflectors.

"This thing will kill you," said Plainfield resident Ed Arter, during a recent meeting with Village leaders.

"If I were in Afghanistan you'd call it a piece of shrapnel. It probably weighs about three pounds. We're not in Afghanistan though. The place where I found these is right down the middle of our village," Arter said.

NBC 5 investigates found a number of broken pieces of the metal pavement marker casings along U.S. Route 59 in Plainfield that had obviously come loose from the road.

"Something needs to be done," said Plainfield resident Jeremy Albright. "Chances are it's going to make the road fall apart faster and we don't need any more of that."

There are gaping holes in the asphalt where the markers have come loose. Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Jae Miller says the pavement markers are inspected every three years.

"Our statewide inspection policy recommends the removal of individual RPMs that have become damaged and there is a possibility they will become dislodged, but they may not be replaced immediately," Miller said. "The markers are generally replaced when there is some type of road construction."

Miller went on to say that the "small number of complaints compared to the overall safety value of reflective pavement markers make them well worth the investment."

Transportation expert and DePaul University professor Joseph Schwieterman says condensation and expansion loosens the markers and then the snow plows and 18-wheelers sometimes kick them up -- sending them flying into cars.

"No question that we're having reports both from Illinois and other states that we have flying reflector plates that can be fatal, so I think we have enough data now that states need to come together and ask what's going on here," Schwieterman said.

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