Described as a “national disgrace” and a “culpable blight”, it seems that the era of excessive and ridiculous road signs is coming to an end. In a report published by the Road Signs Task Force (RSTF), kindly provided to by The Times it shows that the number of road signs has doubled in 20 years to an insurmountable 4.3 million across Britain’s roads.

This “national embarrassment” of our once proud institution of road signs has come to boiling point. Some 21 sign types are deemed pointless by this report, including traffic light warning signs and cycle warning signs that are not needed and in some cases not even visible to road users.

Signs to be removed

In the report, the RSTF provide a list of all the signs that are recommended to be axed, mainly due to safety and overcrowding concerns. It says that road signs should be used as a means of make clear notice to drivers based on what they cannot see ahead and notify them of what is coming. In the case of many signs, they have been created unnecessarily because the driver can see what is coming ahead anyway.

The second point is that by having too many signs, the driver may be distracted by looking at a sign not needed rather than paying attention to driving. There are no statistics about how unnecessary road signs could lead to accidents, but RSTF do make clear that minimalism of road signs should improve driving standards and focus driver attention overall.
The following is a list of the main signs that the RSTF recommends should be axed from Britain’s roads.

Warning signs

Warning signs such as traffic lights ahead, roundabout warning signs and skid risk signs are all recommended to be removed. Traffic lights ahead signs were described as “entirely unnecessary” because if the lights can be seen, then they themselves are the warning.

It is thought that nine out of ten warning signs could be removed. Similarly, roundabout warning signs were deemed useless, especially if people can already see the roundabout. Skid risk signs were condemned as well, as they are only temporary and therefore should not be up for more than is necessary, as they should only be put up when the road is in repair and should be taken down as soon as the risk is removed. Other signs to be delegated to the dump are junction ahead signs, cycle warning signs and yellow backing board signs.

Informative signs

One of the most annoying things on British roads is the ‘New Road Layout Ahead’ sign and other such temporary road signs. Often put up after roadworks, driving around roads, one must see multiple ‘temporary’ signs dotted around. These signs seem to stay up longer than the legal three months and provide nothing but an annoyance to drivers.

The RSTF report recommended that a fine of £500 should be put in place for every ‘temporary’ sign that councils don’t remove in time, of which the profits would go into the national road repair fund. Another pointless information sign is the somewhat ironic “sign not in use” sign. By using this sign, it negates the fact that nine times out of ten, the ‘sign not in use’ sign could have been removed altogether.

A particular favourite amongst drivers, the classic Box Brownie sign (image of a camera) has now been declared redundant as technology starts to take over where speed can be tracked at any point by mobile camera detectors rather specific fixed locations.

Roundabout sponsorship signs have also drawn criticism, due to safety and the non-uniform design they often have. Such signs are recommended to be highly regulated to avoid excessive and unnecessary use, as councils may be tempted to increase the size to appease higher paying customers.

Information signs also included in the list are end of motorway regulations, hard shoulder for x yards, certain brown tourist signs, housing development signs and roundabout countdown markers not on high-speed roads.

Regulatory signs

One of the main road signs that cause people issues is the rather ambiguous Clearway sign. The RSTF report has a huge problem with rural clearway signs and those used on arterial routes, as most of the roads on these routes are not places where there would normally be stopping. As the report says “Clearways should only be introduced where there are historic instances of stopping that an authority wishes to end.” If there is no feasible reason why these signs should be up, then why are they up at all?

Cycle track signs are another one that is destined for removal. With the recommendation being to scrap these signs completely, the obvious solution is to clearly paint the signs, which the report mentions and recommends. The other category involved is zone signs, which include controlled parking zone and other zone signs, low emission zone, safer HGV zone and the congestion charge zone.

What is coming next?

So what is that the RSTF is suggesting Highways England and the Department for Transport (DfT) do about these recommendations? The RSTF main suggestion is to create an amendment to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions Act (TRSDG) stating that all signs mentioned above are no longer legal on roads and that they should all be removed by a specified date.

While there is clearly a significant issue on our roads, there is no doubt that removing thousands of signs would be costly and take up time but can be incredibly useful. Not only aesthetically, but also by keeping people safe and removing yet another distraction as they try and navigate around the ever-confusing British road network.

As the RSTF report says “the principle of minimalism should be paramount.” When creating road designs, consideration should be taken on the necessity, not the potential. If a sign does not need to be there, why is it there? If signs are excessive and causing potential safety issues then what is the need is for them?

Auditing all signs within each local council or authority has also been recommended. Some authorities have already done this, and this has allowed local councils to see and understand what signs were unnecessary and what an improved road system looks like after they’ve been removed.

Can you think of any roads signs near you that you think are completely useless? Why do you think there are now 4.3 million road signs and many are useless? Let us know in the comments below.

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