Sign clutter campaign misses obvious target

The UK Metric Association (UKMA) welcomes today’s announcement by the government of an attack on unnecessary sign clutter, but believes that some obvious targets have been missed: in particular, the Department for Transport’s requirements for local authorities to use multiple obsolete units on our road signs.

As UKMA pointed out in our recent leaflet Traffic Signs 2.0, the use of rational metric units on signs would make signs clearer than the current mixture of units on imperial-based road signs. This is particularly evident in Wales, where the requirement to show two languages would be considerably simpler using metric units – with common symbols – than imperial text.

Some examples of current cluttered signs (on the left) and our proposed simplified signs (on the right) are given below:

Current cluttered signs                              Clear metric signs





Author: UK Metric Association

Campaigning for a single, rational system of measurement

14 thoughts on “Sign clutter campaign misses obvious target”

  1. The metric signs are much, much clearer – why does the Welsh government allow a Conservative in Westminster to dictate that they must have much larger and more confusing signs than necessary?


  2. As is so often the case in government, rational discourse seems impossible on this issue. Road sign conversion to metric is being held hostage as a proxy fight against the EU.

    I suspect that, if conversion from L-s-d to decimal currency were today just a proposal and still being debated in the UK, the presenters on “Top Gear” (see the post “Kids don’t count”) would be making snide comments about that proposal as well with references to Napoleon and the French liberally thrown in for good measure.

    I can almost hear them now: “Save the shilling, guinea, crown, sovereign and farthing for Britain!”


  3. I totally agree that the metric signs are far clearer, and we can only hope that the myopic officials at the Traffic Signs Policy Branch of the DfT will eventually see the light.

    I do however have one comment (and I had the same thought when I first saw the UKMA proposals for new clearer signs), and that is, as shown in the signs illustrated in this article, there could be some potential confusion between the distances shown as being ‘ahead’ and ‘for a distance of’. In particular, under the ‘humps’ sign, the single upward arrows shown as meaning ‘for a distance of’ 100 m immediately jump out to me as meaning 100 m ahead. This may be due to familiarity with this usage on my part, where many jurisdictions (particularly in North America) use the single upward pointing arrow to denote advance warning of something (such as a lower speed limit coming up).

    Perhaps this can be resolved by the use of an arrow at each end of the lines either side of the 100 m? This is consistent with, say, dimensions on construction drawings, where a line with an arrow either end denotes a ‘measurement (or distance) of’, rather than pointing to (or towards) something, which is what single arrows are used for.


  4. John,

    The arrows on the distance placard align with the ends of the hump symbol above. However, I am not sure what other signs “for a distance of” might be used for.

    To be concise, one must learn new conventions to avoid the need for verboseness. If I saw the hump sign first, I might be confused. Seeing the other two examples, a distance placard with nothing else in it clearly means “distance ahead.” I can accept the arrows on the hump sign, but another possibility is just arrowheads on the distance placard, pointing outward, and touching the border of the placard, as universally meaning “for a distance of”
    (These arrowheads would be the reverse of a width restriction sign, where they point inward)


  5. John:

    I think your proposal regarding outward pointing arrows either side of the 100 m would work very well indeed.


  6. The use of up-arrows on road signs to indicate the extent of a hazard is not a novel invention. It is prescribed by the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals and is in wide use across the world in those countries that have more fully implemented the Convention than the UK.

    Click to access Conv_road_signs_2006v_EN.pdf

    Article 9.6 of Part I of the Convention (pdf page 24) states:

    “If a danger warning sign is used to give warning of a danger on a section of road of some length (e.g. a series of dangerous bends or a section of carriageway in bad condition) and if it is considered desirable to show the length of that section, this shall be done on an additional panel H,2 of Annex 1, section H to this Convention, placed in accordance with the provisions of that section.” (diagram H,2 is on pdf page 120)

    It is surprising that the DfT’s ongoing Traffic Signs Policy Review appears to have not addressed inconsistencies between our current signs and those described in international standards and treaties.

    Apart from being designed to increase road safety and aid international traffic by standardising the signing system used for road traffic, the Vienna Convention also has the benefit of reducing unnecessary text and clutter on road signs – supposedly one of the key aims of the Traffic Signs Policy Review.


  7. I have to admit feeling somewhat cynical about this latest initiative by the Transport Secretary, laudable as it may seem.

    The fastidiously cost conscious DfT seem to cheerfully ignore the expense that this regime of “decluttering” will incur. Apart from the actual works someone has got to survey and decide which signs can be removed and which should stay. Not a simple matter if done carefully. These cost elements are laid on with a trowel when they want to make a case for not doing something.

    A number of the voices calling for this seem more concerned with them not looking pretty and spoiling the landscape than matters of safety.

    The only agent I am prepared to trust is the RAC who seem genuinely concerned with the problem of information overload. Their solution though is not to get rid of the signs but spread them out to strategic locations so that motorists can take the information in more easily.

    That should be the overriding concern. What is needed is a more intelligent regime of sign deployment taking due account of the opportunity for smaller and clearer signs as well as the combinations of signs in any given location.


  8. Is the UK a signatory t the UN convention ? Interesting to note on page 104 that the symbol for tonnes is a capital T ! Perhaps that is why we are using that, to be fair most of the convention has been adopted by the UK over the years. The fact we use T not t probably shows somebody has read this document as some point when we switched from tons to tonnes (or did we use T before too – does anyone know ?)


  9. Given the previous comments, I’m wondering if there is a document somewhere that pulls together information on all of the relevant treaties, regulations, and directives, where the UK clearly deviates from those, where there are contradictions or inconsistencies, and proposals for how to sort all this out.


  10. Ezra… not as trivial as it may seem as it depends on the hardware being made in such a manner as to support the display of an extra digit (albeit a number 1 on the left of the display).

    I’ve seen a lot of electronic signs in the past that would only be able to cope with 2 digits which would be completely unsuitable for the speed limits required and I’d put real money on the probability that the folks who are buying these signs have made no effort to specify equipment that can cope with such a future requirement… and the excuse will, of course, be cost!


  11. That’s an awfuly big assumption to make, Ezra.

    As far as I’m aware, there is only space for two digits on the variable signs, so the maximum numerical display (99) would be below the current UK motorway speed limit expressed in km/h.

    A cynic might suggest that the DfT were trying to establish new reasons to make metrication more difficult on UK roads.


  12. About a month ago I wrote to my MP (Karen Lumley) about ‘Street Clutter’ I also asked her to “ please discuss this matter with Eric Pickles and Philip Hammond”.

    Below is her reply.
    “Thank you for contacting me about street clutter.

    I believe that there are too many obstacles cluttering local streets. Signs, railings and advertisements can confuse road users and contribute to the increase, rather than the reduction, of road accidents. Whilst I recognise that some signs are a legal requirement, not all are necessary.

    England has beautiful streets that are hidden behind such clutter and I realise that the safety culture adopted by councils may be excessive, exacerbating issues surrounding existing street clutter.

    As part of its Big Society community engagement plans, the Government is encouraging communities to highlight areas of excessive signage to the local authority. ln addition, I am pleased that the Department for Transport is reviewing traffic signs policy with a view to publishing new advice on how to reduce clutter later this year.

    Street clutter can confuse road users as well as, in some circumstances, being an unnecessary public expense. Road safety is paramount and the Government is committed to working with local authorities to ensure that both pedestrians and vehicle users remain safe.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me”

    So we must now wait for the new D of T advice on how to reduce clutter. More delay.


  13. If Karen Lumley and DfT are truly serious about ensuring that both pedestrians and vehicle users remain safe (as well as managing budgets well and saving money, which they keep claiming they want to do), doesn’t that provide an air-tight argument for adopting the plan to replace all Imperial-only height and width restriction signs with dual Imperial/metric signs?

    Given those premises, how could the government sensibly or rationally argue the contrary view? And is there a way to successfully “hold their feet to the fire” in this regard?


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