In order to pass their driving theory tests, motorists are expected to memorise a whole host of road signs and their meanings. Some of these are signs that they will see daily, but others are ones that they may never actually see in real life. The issue is further complicated by the sheer number of signs, and the fact that some mean one thing, but look like they could or should mean something else.

Beware of double meanings

A recent case in Suffolk highlighted the complexity of ensuring that road signs are fit for purpose. Children and those driving on the UK’s roads while visiting from abroad reported confusion and consternation over a sign reading ‘Cats Eyes Removed.’

To those who’ve learned to drive in the UK, the sign’s temporary presence (in combination with the resurfacing work that was taking place) was nothing remarkable – it merely warned that the usual reflective markers in the centre of the road would not be visible for a while. However, several of those who saw the sign and hadn’t learned to drive in the UK were shocked by the blatant boast of animal cruelty.

People who were distressed by the sign included an American tourist, who had to do a double take of the sign in question, then ask a local about the meaning of it, and a five-year-old girl who got upset about the welfare of her pet cat.

The most misinterpreted road signs

While the Suffolk case is perhaps something of an oddity, there are plenty of road signs in the UK that drivers regularly misinterpret. Given that road signs exist to give drivers the information they need to drive safely, this highlights the need for drivers to keep up their knowledge of the UK’s road signs, even after they’ve got through the rigours of the driving theory test.

According to Vehicle Exports, the top five most misinterpreted road signs are:

The national speed limit sign

Many drivers believe this sign means that there is no speed limit. However, it actually means that it’s the start of a national speed limit area. The result is that many drivers are unaware of the maximum speed at which they are supposed to be travelling.

The uneven road sign

The uneven road sign is to warn drivers to take care due to the uneven road surface ahead. However, many drivers think the sign means there are speed bumps up ahead, resulting in them not slowing down as they’re waiting to see the bumps before braking.

The road narrowing sign

Many drivers think that the sign that warns of a narrowing road on both sides is in fact showing the end of a dual carriageway. This can lead to confusion about what speed to travel at in order to stay safe, as well as drivers seeking to merge into the left-hand lane for no reason.

The no motor vehicles sign

One can’t help but wonder why this sign wasn’t created with a line through the car and motorbike that are pictured. The result of this is that vehicles can end up on roads where they shouldn’t be, putting the cyclists and pedestrians who are permitted on the road in danger.

The minimum speed limit sign

It’s not unusual for drivers to confuse a minimum speed limit sign with a maximum speed limit sign. This encourages them to drive more slowly, when they should be going at least a little faster, causing confusion amongst other road users.

More uncommon mistakes

Other road signs that drivers misinterpret are usually those that they don’t encounter very often. These include signs found around level crossings, those relating to steam trains, the aeroplane road sign (which is in place to warn drivers to expect sudden noise from aircraft passing overhead) and signs for the attention of motorcyclists, e.g. specific parking spots.

Some of these signs pose more risks than others when drivers misinterpret them. Nevertheless, people who use the roads regularly should try to be as clued up as possible about what the signs that they encounter mean – and how to react to particular ones to ensure that they are driving as safely as possible.

Understanding road signs is an important part of being able to drive safely. They often warn drivers of hazards up ahead, and confusion about what signs are trying to portray can have devastating consequences.

Were you familiar with the meaning of all of the road signs pictured above? Should drivers be retested regularly to ensure that their road sign recognition skills remain tip top? Leave a comment to share your views.