Drivers, what do you think is keeping you from becoming a stain on the highway? There are a number of things that are keeping you from your date with the choir invisible, one of them a highway safety innovation conceived in 1917 by Dr. June McCarroll. McCarroll came up with the idea to paint lines in the road, separating lanes with a center line. If you’ve ever driven on a U.S. highway, McCarroll may very well have saved your life.
A simple, life-saving idea
Some of the greatest innovations began with a simple idea. Imagine the early days of automotive use. It was a veritable Wild West, with safety equipment at a minimum and rules of the road adapted for cars rather than horses and bicycles being largely non-existent. Highway safety took a back burner to the sheer novelty and innovation of the passenger car. Without lines in the road, there was no clearly delineated lane separation to help regulate the flow of traffic and avert side-swiping and collisions.
June McCarroll decided that one face-off in 1917 between her in a Model T Ford and a truck on a paved, lane-free Indio, Calif., highway (later part of U.S. Route 99) was enough:
“My Model T Ford and I found ourselves face to face with a truck on the paved highway. It did not take me long to choose between a sandy berth to the right and a ten-ton truck to the left! Then I had my idea of a white line painted down the center of the highways of the country as a safety measure.”
Getting it done with letters
McCarroll, a nurse and later a physician, contacted her local chamber of commerce and the Riverside Country Board of Supervisors. Historical record suggests that the organizations didn’t take McCarroll seriously because of her gender. After a highly motivated letter-writing campaign, painted lines on highways became California law by 1924. The rest of the nation quickly followed suit.
It should be noted that some sources claim that Wayne County road commission member Edward Hines came up with the paint lines on the highway idea in 1911, after seeing a leaking milk wagon leave a train on the street. Yet June McCarroll tends to receive credit in most sources for the center line idea.
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More on June McCarroll
June Hill Robertson McCarroll was born in the Adirondacks in 1867. She attended medical college in Chicago, and moved to Southern California in 1904. From 1907 through 1916, she was the only regularly practicing physician in the desert region between the Salton Sea and Palm Springs, Calif. By the time the center line law McCarroll inspired passed in November 1924, the California Highway Commission committed to painting 3,500 miles of highway, at a cost of $163,000.
In honor of Dr. June McCarroll’s contribution to highway safety, a memorial plaque is on display at the intersection of Indio Boulevard and Flower Street in Indio, Calif. The Dr. June McCarroll Memorial Freeway – a stretch of Interstate 10 near Indio east of the Indio Boulevard/Jefferson Street exit – was dedicated on April 24, 2002.