A three-year review of traffic signs has failed to address major problems with the UK’s signs.
On 13 October the Department for Transport published the final report of its Traffic Signs Policy Review. The report, “Signing the Way”, marks the culmination of a major review which began in September 2008, which at the time was hailed as, “the biggest review of British road signs for 40 years“.
In an age of increased international travel, the need for road signs to be universally understood has never been more obvious. It therefore beggars belief that the review has seemingly made little effort to address major issues related to the international understanding of the UK’s road signs. Some of the issues that should have been addressed include:
- The use of outdated imperial measurement units.
- The lack of full compliance with international road sign treaties and international road safety initiatives, including the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, and the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety.
- The use of standard pictograms versus language dependent word-based signs.
At an interim stage of the review process, the DfT had recommended that all remaining imperial-only signing of width and height restrictions should be replaced with dual-unit signs. However this decision was later reversed by the then Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, even though the DfT’s own figures showed that the continued use of imperial-only restriction signs would cost more due to their link with a higher incidence of bridge strikes.
UKMA wrote to the then Secretary of State asking for an explanation of his apparently irrational decision, and it is hoped that the new Transport Secretary will review the decision and perhaps restore the DfT’s original intention. UKMA will publish her reply when received.
Meanwhile, on what must be tentatively considered a positive note, the review’s final report has announced the introduction of a new dual unit height restriction warning sign, which is intended to make it easier for authorities to show height restrictions in dual units. Currently, if an authority chooses to use a warning triangle, rather than a roundel sign, to show a height restriction, then it is necessary to use two separate signs if metric as well as imperial dimensions are shown. The new sign will allow a warning triangle to be used that uses metres, whilst still fulfilling the DfT’s requirement that all restriction signs must use feet and inches.
The report does not make it clear though whether the new dual unit height warning triangle will replace the current imperial (and optional additional metric) sign, or whether it will merely be added to the list of height restriction signs that are already available for highway authorities to choose from.
The signing of height restrictions is a good illustration of the unnecessary complications that result from not using standard internationally agreed signs as prescribed by the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals.
Research Project into the Awareness of the Meaning of Traffic Signs
In an adjoining report, into the awareness of the meaning of road signs, the subject of the measurement units used on height and width restriction signs is briefly investigated. The comments of survey participants include the following:
- regarding dual unit height signs, “showing both metres and feet is confusing“
- and that imperial-only width restriction signs could be improved if the “Sign should be in metric as well“.
The report’s conclusions to both of these issues is, “Recommendations -None“.
Despite the fact that survey participants had flagged measurement units as being an issue, no effort was made to research the understanding of metric-only restriction signs, or how much easier it is to assimilate information when presented in single standard units. i.e. in the form of signs compliant with the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals – as already seen by UK drivers whenever they travel outside the UK.
Regarding sign clutter, the research report also noted that, “Foreign drivers and drivers who have difficulty reading or understanding English were more likely to feel there are too many road signs“. Yet the report fails to make the obvious recommendation that, wherever possible, standard pictograms should be used in preference to language dependent word-based signs.
The UK Metric Association produced a fully-illustrated leaflet “Traffic Signs 2.0“, as part of its submission to the DfT’s review consultation. Free copies of the leaflet can be obtained by emailing email@example.com .