The Department for Transport (DfT) is failing to address the needs of Welsh road users, and international traffic, when considering road sign designs in its Traffic Signs Policy Review.
Many UK road signs use improvised English language abbreviations and English language names for measurement units, in addition to extensive use of English text. This is despite the existence of internationally-recognised symbols, and standard units of measurement, which are already in use on road signs in the rest of the world.
This failure to use standard symbols and pictograms, compels Welsh traffic authorities to modify parochial English traffic sign designs, so that traffic signs in Wales can meet the requirement to be understood in both Welsh and English.
If traffic signs throughout the UK made maximum use of standard symbols and pictograms, the majority of signs could be understood by drivers speaking any language, without additional translation.
With increased international traffic in recent years, one would expect that this aspect of traffic sign design would be given high priority in the current Traffic Signs Policy Review. However, some new road signs planned for introduction in 2010, will actually exacerbate the problem. For instance, the new cycle route directional sign, that gives distances using estimated journey times, does not use the standard symbols for hour (h) and minute (min), but uses improvised English language abbreviations instead. Consequently, a special bilingual version will be required when it is used in Wales.
The diagram below shows how simple the above cycle route sign would be if standard symbols and units of measurement were used.
All metric units of measurement have standard internationally-recognised symbols. This means, for example, that the ‘km’ symbol will be understood to mean ‘kilometre’ regardless of language.
Existing language-dependent signs can also be simplified by using standard symbols.
The use of yards is not compatible with the Welsh language.
The UK is the only country in the world that uses yards on road signs (the USA uses feet or metres).
Further examples of how current parochial traffic signs could be more widely-understood by using standard metric symbols can be seen on the UKMA website.
1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals
The issue of designing signs for road users of different languages is not a new one, and was addressed many years ago by those countries, including the UK, that signed up to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. This international treaty lays out the principles, and standard symbols, for road signs used throughout most of the world, and includes the following statement:
“The Contracting Parties,
Recognizing that international uniformity of road signs, signals and symbols and of road markings is necessary in order to facilitate international road traffic and to increase road safety,
Have agreed upon the following provisions:
The huge increase in international traffic over the past 40 years, and the modern needs of the Welsh language, should make the Vienna Convention even more relevant today, but it seems that the Traffic Signs Policy Review is not addressing this fundamental issue. So, if it is not going to be addressed in, what was described in September 2008 as, “the biggest review of British road signs for 40 years”, when will it be addressed?
Traffic Signs Policy Review
Details of the Traffic Signs Policy Review can be found at the following link
You can apply to join the sounding board, or comment directly using the following e-mail address
You can comment on the new journey-time cycle route sign, and other proposed amendments to traffic signs regulations, in the DfT consultation. Details of which can be found at the following link.
Other traffic sign issues that can be solved by using univerally understood symbols and units of measurement are described in UKMA’s leaflet Traffic Signs 2.0 . Free printed copies can be obtained by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org .