I've been driving along highways in Western Canada at night or dusk and I've been pretty surprised by the darkness on the roads. I'm not thinking of actual streetlights, as it doesn't really make sense in rural areas, but of cat's eyes, or road reflectors, that are common on many roads in the world.

These highways usually have little traffic, so the chances you can follow another car are low. Big turns are announced by signs but frequent turns with lower curvature are not really signaled and it appeared to me on many opportunities that these road reflectors were lacking and would make sense there.

I've been thinking about it and the main reason there might not be any could be the presence of wildlife at night, the main way to notice them is to see their eyes reflecting the car's lights (and animals wouldn't be noticed if there were road reflectors). It is quite popular in Canada that night driving is not recommended because you would encounter wildlife. This theory is only mine and very hypothetical.

Is there a reason why road reflectors are not used on roads in Western Canada?

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    Trivia - Roads in Hokkaido, Japan use overhead markers to combat the snow: alamy.com/…
    – Nayuki
    Dec 27, 2022 at 5:38
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    More trivia: I grew up (in California) with them being called "Bott's Dots"; and BTW w.r.t. the truthiness of that Wikipedia article - I've lived in WA State > 25yrs and have never - as in never ever - heard them referred to as "turtles". WTF?
    – davidbak
    Dec 27, 2022 at 5:57
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    (I asked this question in Boston a long time ago because they were missing what is common on ordinary residential streets in Los Angeles: little blue rectangular "dots" that mark fire hydrants. In Beacon Hill and the Back Bay where parking is not just bumper-to-bumper but bumper-over-bumper I thought they'd be useful. But again, the answer was snow. In Southern California: not an issue, you know?)
    – davidbak
    Dec 27, 2022 at 6:00
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    @Nayuki Similar idea in Scotland Snow Poles But I do really like the Japanese ones
    – Darren H
    Dec 27, 2022 at 9:27
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    @davidbak Bott's Dots are (mostly) non-reflective - their primary purpose is to be a raised bump on the road. Cat's eyes primary purpose is to be retro-reflective. (They may raised to facilitate that, but that's not their primary goal.) -- Some people may mistakenly call a cat's eyes/retroreflectors "Bott's Dots", but technically they're distinct.
    – R.M.
    Dec 27, 2022 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


To confirm my speculations that snow is also a factor, I went to search a little bit to see past proposals in Western Canada to add reflectors and the existing ones.

Reflective markings in Canada's climate face many challenges. The reflective paints do not survive very well over the freeze-thaw cycle and the use of road salt and abrasives. And the reflectors do have problems with snow removal: they can be damaged from snow ploughs if too brittle, or they can damage the snow ploughs if they are too hard e.g. raised cast iron.

For example, in this article from TranBC (the provincial transportation department) regarding the difficulty finding appropriate paints for the roads, the challenges include

How long will each paint take the scouring of winter abrasives (aka crushed stone and gravel)? Will it stand up under the scraping of snow plow blades, what effect will heavy rain, snow or slush have, and how long will it be before the weight and friction of vehicles dull its shine?

While focusing on paints, the same issues are present for raised reflectors. In the comment section, the department mentioned in one comment:

We do use raised reflectors that are slightly recessed into the road surface to protect them from plough damage but it is still a challenge to have them last a whole season. Hope that this helps!

Alternatives such as roadside reflector posts and delineator signs, which are visible during snowfall (well, most of the times), do exist and are relatively common in BC and Alberta. But maintainance costs still exist (unfortunately, neither platics nor stickers do well over winter).

  • For comparison, road markings in Finland do use reflective paints, but they have clear damage already after first winter. Largest roads have markings repainted every year, but smaller ones do not. Many roads do have reflective plastic poles though.
    – jpa
    Dec 28, 2022 at 17:00
  • I have worked with Public Works departments in several cities in the Midwest US and the Pacific Northwest in the Americas and absolutely agree with your answer. When I lived in the Midwest where snow and ice were common, reflective centreline markers were rarely used and they don't really add safety margins. A snow plow would shear these off and potentially damage the road. In the PNW lowlands snow is uncommon and the wetness of the road make line marking hard to see, road reflectors increase visibility and increase safety.
    – RomaH
    Dec 29, 2022 at 0:17


Cost is the main one. Any road furniture costs money for installation and maintenance, and while the individual unit cost of cat's eyes is much lower than lighting, it still adds up, especially given the long distances in a country the size of Canada.

In the UK, a much smaller country, we have a significant percentage of roads with no lighting or cat's eyes, also due to cost

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    They probably work same way as in Israel, price being casualties. Where there are "enough" victims on certain road, they'll improve that road. Dec 27, 2022 at 10:12
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    @ShadowWizardChasingStars I can’t find much detail, but the UK has been estimating the cost of traffic accidents for 30 years now, and uses that to inform the amount they will spend on prevention. It seems to be about 1.5 million to prevent a fatality
    – Tim
    Dec 27, 2022 at 17:26
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    @ShadowWizardChasingStars The question is whether the money is better spent elsewhere (on busy roads) and on a different means of safety. For example, cats eyes do nothing to improve visibility of pedestrians, animals and other cars, like street lighting does.
    – user71659
    Dec 27, 2022 at 23:51
  • @user71659 yeah that's something for experts to analyze, make researches, etc. Dec 28, 2022 at 8:42

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