In the last week the Department for Transport published in full the much-awaited Traffic Signs Manual update. As many will know, I have been campaigning against unnecessary and grotty road signs for 25 years.
In October 2015 I was asked by the Department for Transport to set up a Task Force and compile a report on the state of our road signs across the country and how they could be improved. The Task Force looked at their design; the law and guidance governing their use; practitioners’ attitudes and the pressures they face; safety; contracts and cost; and, crucially, the overall visual impact of current practices along with the public reaction to their use on the road.
The report found that the number of road signs on our highways has more than doubled in the last 20 years. For far too long, Highways authorities have adopted an overcautious approach to the provision of signs when in fact they should be looking at what must be done rather than what may be done. There is little or no statistical evidence to support the assertion that this proliferation produces safe roads – but still the fear of prosecution exerts a powerful influence.
As an example in Rutland, many of the 7.5 tonne weight restriction signs put in nearly 20 years ago were all located far too far forward on any side road which is both unsightly and impractical. I made a fuss at the time but nothing happened and we’ve been stuck with them ever since.
I am delighted that the Department for Transport has taken many of the Task Force’s recommendations on board in the updated Traffic Signs Manual.
The new guidelines say that the overuse of traffic signs “blights the landscape, wastes taxpayers’ money and dilutes important safety-critical messages” – all points that were repeatedly made in the Task Force’s report. It also says that clutter increases risks to road workers and creates additional maintenance burdens.
Local authorities have now been told to adopt a “less is more” approach when considering new traffic signs, and get rid of redundant signs and their supports when looking at new ones.
Temporary signs should be allocated a “remove by” date to prevent them being left at the road side for a long period of time. Councils should remove red signs advising drivers of a “new road layout ahead” within three months of the roadworks being finished.
The new rules also say that yellow signs displaying the location of a new housing development should be removed within six months.
These updated guidelines are very welcome, but in order to see real change we need to ensure they are actually enforced and that local authorities do not just carry on as before.
You can read the new Traffic Signs Manual online here.