The Cat’s Meow. Which Countries Use Cats Eyes on Their Roads?


Cat’s eyes are retroreflective road studs used to mark traffic lanes. They consist of glass spheres set into the road surface that reflect light from vehicle headlights back towards the driver, making the studs appear to glow at night. This allows drivers to see the edges of the road and centerlines more clearly in darkness or other low-visibility conditions.

Cat’s eyes provide a vital safety function on roads around the world. They help drivers stay in their lanes, see oncoming traffic in their own lane, and gauge when it is safe to overtake other vehicles. Their reflective nature makes roads safer to drive at night or in poor weather when visibility is reduced.


Cat’s eyes were invented in 1933 in the UK by Percy Shaw. According to the BBC Radio 4 Facebook page, “The man who invented cat’s eyes got the idea when he saw the eyes of a cat in his headlights. If the cat had been going the other way, he would have invented the rabbit’s eye.”1

Shaw came up with the idea of using reflective glass to improve visibility of road markings at night. This was particularly useful on winding rural roads where painted lines were hard to see in darkness. The glass cat’s eyes shone brightly when headlights hit them, providing a clear delineation of the road’s edge. Shaw patented his invention and set up Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd in 1934 to manufacture the cat’s eyes which helped illuminate many dangerous roads and prevent accidents.2

UK Adoption

The cat’s eye road reflector was invented by Percy Shaw in 1933 in the UK [1]. Shaw got the inspiration for the design when he noticed how his car’s headlights reflected in the eyes of a cat at night. He developed the device as a way to improve road safety for drivers. In 1934, Shaw patented his cat’s eye design and founded a company called Reflecting Roadstuds Limited to begin manufacturing the devices [2].

The cat’s eye quickly gained popularity in the UK as an effective road marking. By the late 1930s, cat’s eyes had been installed along many major roads in Britain. They helped drivers to see the road and edges better at night and in poor weather conditions. The widespread adoption of cat’s eyes through the 1930s significantly improved road safety in the UK.

US Adoption

Cat’s eyes were first introduced in the United States in New Jersey in 1953. Over the next couple of decades, they spread across major highways across the country. According to Wikipedia, by the 1960s, reflective road studs had become commonplace throughout the United States.

The first installation of cat’s eyes in the US was on the New Jersey Turnpike. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority engineer John Garber was inspired to install them after a trip to England. Garber imported the technology from England and installed around 15,000 epoxy-backed cat’s eyes on the busy highway by 1955.

Cat’s eyes provided an important safety benefit on dangerous, busy highways like the New Jersey Turnpike. By improving lane markings at night, they helped drivers stay in their lanes and avoid accidents. Their success led to rapid adoption across major highways over the next 10-15 years.

Other Early Adopters

Cat’s eyes spread to many other countries in the decades after their invention in England in the 1930s. Some other early adopters included:

  • Australia – Adopted cat’s eyes in the 1930s shortly after the UK. They remain widely used today on major highways across the country.
  • South Africa – Began using cat’s eyes in the 1950s. They are still commonly found on South African roads.
  • Germany – Started using a version of cat’s eyes called “Nachtaugen” in the 1950s. However, they have declined in usage over the years.
  • Netherlands – Adopted cat’s eyes, known as “kattenogen,” in the 1950s. They are less prevalent today due to other reflective road markers.
  • Sweden – Introduced cat’s eyes in the 1950s but they have been largely phased out in favor of reflective paint and posts.

In addition to the UK, cat’s eyes became a popular road safety feature across many countries in the Southern Hemisphere and parts of Europe in the middle decades of the 1900s.

Global Spread

Cat’s eyes were adopted globally throughout the 20th century as an effective road marking solution. After early adoption in the UK and US, the reflective road studs spread to countries around the world. By the 1970s, cat’s eyes were being used in most developed countries.

According to Wikipedia, cat’s eyes became commonplace in many countries including Lebanon, where they are widely used on highways and roadways. The spread of cat’s eyes aligned with the major boom in road construction and infrastructure projects during the mid-20th century.

Today, cat’s eyes can be found on roads in countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Australia. They are recognized internationally as an effective and economical way to mark lane divisions and enhance nighttime visibility. While alternatives have emerged, cat’s eyes remain a standard road marking component used globally.

Decline and Alternatives

While cats eyes were once widespread, their usage has declined in recent decades. This is primarily due to improvements in reflective paint and tape technology, reducing the need for physical road studs. Many transportation departments found painting or taping highway lines to be cheaper and easier to maintain than installing cats eyes. The reflective paint contains glass beads that reflect light from headlights back to drivers.

Another factor in the decline of cats eyes is the development of road studs, also known as raised pavement markers (RPMs). These studs are anchored to the road surface and often made of plastic, ceramic, or metal. Some contain small solar cells to power internal LED lights for increased visibility at night. Compared to cats eyes, studs provide 360 degree reflectivity and have a longer service life. Major markets like the US and China now predominantly use reflective paint and solar-powered studs instead of the classic cat’s eye.

However, cats eyes are still used in some areas, especially on rural roads, tight curves, and locations where snowplowing could damage other markers. Their vertical profile stands out from a distance at night. Cats eyes remain a tested, effective road marking solution even as new alternatives become available.

Remaining Users

Although cat’s eyes are no longer as widely used as they once were, they can still be found on roads in many parts of the world today. Some of the countries that continue to use cat’s eyes include:

Europe – While not as prevalent as in the UK, cat’s eyes are still installed on some roads in parts of Europe like Ireland, France and Spain. However, reflective road studs and markings are more common in most of continental Europe.1

Americas – Both the United States and Canada make use of cat’s eyes, especially in areas that experience icy winter road conditions where they help improve visibility and safety.

Australia – Cat’s eyes remain fairly widely used across Australia. They are installed on major highways and rural roads to delineate lanes and provide increased nighttime visibility.

Parts of Asia and Africa – Countries like South Africa, Malaysia and India still utilize cat’s eyes on certain roads where the benefits of improved reflectivity and visibility are deemed worthwhile.

So while cat’s eyes are no longer as universally embraced as they once were, their versatility and effectiveness means they continue to have a place on roads in many parts of the world.


One of the key benefits of cat’s eyes is they improve nighttime driving safety through retroreflectivity. The glass beads in the lenses reflect light from headlights back towards the driver, making the road markings clearly visible even in darkness. This allows drivers to see the road ahead and stay in their lane, reducing accidents. Studies have shown retroreflective road markings can reduce nighttime crashes by over 25% (

Cat’s eyes are also highly durable, designed to withstand tough road conditions. The lenses are made of heat-treated glass or acrylic plastic, allowing them to resist damage from traffic and weather over time. They can remain effective for years, while painted road lines often fade or wear away much quicker. The durable nature of cat’s eyes makes them ideal for marking dangerous or high-traffic areas where clear visibility is crucial.


Cat’s eyes have an interesting history, originating in England in the 1930s and spreading to become a common road safety feature around the world by the 1970s. Though initially adopted enthusiastically, their usage has declined in recent decades in many countries as alternatives like reflective road markings, studs, and brighter signage and lighting have become prevalent.

Today, cat’s eyes are still used in some places for their retroreflective properties which improve nighttime visibility. Key remaining users include the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and parts of Asia. While advanced technologies may eventually displace them entirely, cat’s eyes still play an important role in road safety where they remain in place. Their invention and dissemination marked an important development in passive traffic safety.

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