Lucas McDonnell-Hoffert’s study of how road line visibility affects safety won him a bronze medal at the national science fair in May. His work has led to a change in how police assess accidents. Photo: Tyler Harper

Lucas McDonnell-Hoffert’s study of how road line visibility affects safety won him a bronze medal at the national science fair in May. His work has led to a change in how police assess accidents. Photo: Tyler Harper

B.C. student’s work leads to change in road accident investigations

Lucas McDonnell-Hoffert’s study also won him awards at the national science fair

Lucas McDonnell-Hoffert isn’t old enough to drive, but he might know more about highways than most adults behind the wheel.

McDonnell-Hoffert won a bronze medal and two other awards at the national science fair in May for his study of how road line visibility affects drivers. He found there’s no guarantee a vehicle stays on its side of the road if the driver can’t see the line.

“If the line is faded, would the driver look at paint first or the signs? I looked at that and found they look at lines first,” he says.

The 13 year old’s work has also prompted provincial RCMP officers to change how they consider road lines at accident scenes.

RCMP Cpl. David Barnhart, who investigates serious and fatal collisions in southeast B.C., happens to live near McDonnell-Hoffert just outside Nelson.

He said while investigators do pay attention to road line visibility, there was previously nothing in their assessments that noted faded lines. Barnhart said he’s also previously expressed concern about visibility with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“I’ve had a few collisions where the road markings may have played a factor in terms of drivers’ misconception about where their vehicle should be on the roadway.”

McDonnell-Hoffert’s home is next to a blind corner on Highway 3A with faded lines. Last September he observed traffic for his study, noted how often drivers drifted into the other lane, and also how driver behaviour changed when they saw a marked car Barnhart parked nearby.

“I’ve seen many near misses, consistently people cutting the corner,” says McDonnell-Hoffert.

Part of the problem in McDonnell-Hoffert’s opinion is the paint used on highways.

Ten years ago Environment Canada released new guidelines that banned oil-based paints from being used for road lines. The new water-based paints are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC), which Environment Canada says reduces smog and ground-level ozone emissions.

But they also fade more quickly than oil-based paints. Barnhart said he used to tease a friend in the transportation ministry about its use of temporary reflective tape.

“The joke was the tape lasted years longer than the actual paint, and they should go around putting tape on the roads,” he says.

“Prior to the latex paint, visibility of the road lines was [not an issue]. By the time they came around with the paint truck again, there was always still some sort of line. With the latex, you can have complete loss of the visible line in a couple seasons.”

Rodrigo Disegni is the transportation ministry’s director of rehabilitation and maintenance. He’s been with the ministry for 11 years, but three years ago turned his attention to the science of road lines.

“It’s something that, unfortunately, whenever I’m driving, I’m always looking at the lines and saying, yeah, that looks good, that could be improved,” says Disegni. “Driving used to be enjoyable. Now I’m always on the clock keeping an eye on things.”

Disegni said most main highways are painted once a year in B.C. Some areas might receive multiple paintings depending on conditions, while less-used roads may not be painted for two or three years. (Disegni said a recent ministry study showed traffic volume does not play a significant role in line deterioration.)

Two different paint mixtures are used in B.C. The first is water based, which doesn’t perform as well in humid areas or in cold weather. The other is a low-VOC alkyd paint reserved for coastal areas.

Glass beads, which vary in size depending on location, are also included in the mixture to increase reflectivity. The downside of the beads, though, is they become less reflective as the paint wears and can also be polished off when sand is used in the winter.

All of which is to say there’s a lot more to highway paint than slapping some yellow and white down on pavement.

“You get the idea that this is basically someone painting lines on a road, but the reality is when you start looking at the science behind the paint, it’s actually pretty complex,” says Disegni.

“The chemistry that goes into the production of the paint, the use of the glass beads to help with reflectivity, is very complex.”

This topic has fascinated McDonnell-Hoffert for three years.

He was driving home from school with his grandmother in 2016 when their car was nearly hit by a driver who drifted too far into a left-hand turn lane where the line was faded. That made an impression on a then 10-year-old kid.

“It was a near miss, and that sparked my interest,” he said.

McDonnell-Hoffert’s trip to the national science fair this year in Fredericton was his second in a row following last year’s project that also focused on road lines. His mother Jennifer says her son has changed in unique ways since his close call three years ago.

“He’s more inquisitive,” she says. “He’s always asked why, but now he’s able to research it and find some of those answers and reach out and talk to all these different people.”

McDonnell-Hoffert also isn’t done. His next goal is to create his own paint, one that lasts longer, costs less and is environmentally friendly.

“[I want to] change something in the world,” he says, and he might just do it before he gets his licence.



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Following too closely

Maintaining a buffer in front of your vehicle gives you time to recover from inattention

Sonia Furstenau
Sonia Furstenau column: MLA vows to keep up the fight

COVID-19 continues to strain our communities

Heating cable laid in the cold frame, awaiting the layer of sand. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Greenhouse growing in the winter

I have a heating cable I’ve never used that I’m contemplating putting to work in the cold frame

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Dear Sarah, the letter began. I hope you mail a note from… Continue reading

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

Vees goalkeeper Yaniv Perets stands watch while Tyler Ho takes the puck around the back of the net on Nov. 7. The BCHL press release did not name the player who tested positive.(Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees quarantining after player tests positive for COVID-19

The team, staff and billets are isolating while they are tested

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Most Read