Highway Safety Breakthrough

  • Prosperity
  • 1952

John Dorr was an industrial chemist whose inventiveness allowed him to build a successful company, and then a charitable foundation which he eventually focused on practical solutions to everyday problems. One of his concerns was that when visibility became poor due to weather, and drivers were forced to hug the center stripe to make sure they stayed on the road, collisions became inevitable. If stripes could also be painted on the outer edge of every lane it would be easier for drivers to keep to the road without veering so close to oncoming traffic.

Dorr pressed the highway commissioner in his home state of Connecticut to test his idea, eventually getting New York and Connecticut to paint a right-hand stripe on a stretch of busy parkway. It immediately showed positive effects, but the highway bureaucracies continued to balk, arguing that it would cost $150 per mile to stripe all roads that way, and questioning the return. To answer this, the Dorr Foundation paid for an independent four-state study, which showed that additional lane-striping produced a 37 percent reduction in deaths and injuries. The foundation turned itself into a clearinghouse for studies on this topic, pressed safety groups and highway departments, and eventually was able to shame and cajol states into making right-side road-striping a standard practice, saving thousands of lives.