A recent report into the safety implications of variations in road signs across Europe has ignored problems caused by the UK’s continued use of imperial units.
In the last decade, 2 million Europeans lost their lives or suffered crippling injury on our roads. In purely financial terms, this costs a staggering 2% of European GDP.
In June 2011, two international road safety organisations jointly issued a consultation document, “Roads That Cars Can Read”, in which they forecast that thousands of European lives will be saved once the use of technologies such as in-car road sign recognition systems become as universal as today’s satnavs. The two organisations, the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP), and EuroNCAP, are both dedicated to reducing the number of serious road accidents throughout Europe, and believe that these figures can be drastically reduced by improved road design, and the use of standardised road signs.
The report points out that, after over half a century of international treaties intended to standardise road signs worldwide, there remains “marked variation between countries even on the most common signs”. In addition to the safety implications of poor uniformity of road signs, these differences hinder the ability of future in-car road sign recognition systems to correctly identify signs. The report states that, “It is sure to be true that roads that can more easily be read by machines will be safer for road users generally too”.
As examples of how signs vary, the report shows 3 key signs as implemented in 5 different countries.
Whilst here too there is a lack of uniformity in the use of type faces and the thickness of the outer red circle, there is a far more important difference between these signs. Although superficially similar, the UK sign is alone in not having the same meaning. It prescribes a completely different speed limit from the other signs.
The report also erroneously asserts that “all countries appear to follow the principles of the UNECE protocol agreed in 1949 and revised in 1968”, whereas in fact UK vehicle width, height and length restriction signs are non-compliant because they do not use the units of measurement specified in the protocol, which are metres only.
Section C, II, 1(e) of Annex 1 of the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals specifies the units for vehicle restriction signs:
C, 5 “NO ENTRY FOR VEHICLES HAVING AN OVERALL WIDTH EXCEEDING … METRES”
C, 6 “NO ENTRY FOR VEHICLES HAVING AN OVERALL HEIGHT EXCEEDING … METRES”
C, 9 “NO ENTRY FOR VEHICLES OR COMBINATIONS OF VEHICLES EXCEEDING … METRES IN LENGTH”.
The publication of “Roads That Cars Can Read” comes only weeks after a decision by Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport, to ignore the outcome of an earlier Department for Transport consultation which had recommended that all width and height restriction signs be shown in metres in addition to feet and inches.
The Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals 1968 is an international treaty designed to increase road safety and aid international road traffic by standardising the signing system in use internationally. Its signatories include the UK and more than 50 other countries worldwide.