Government decision contradicts road safety initiatives

The Government has been accused of failing to implement the strategies necessary to achieve goals agreed as part of two major international road safety initiatives. Furthermore, its decision on width and height restriction sign regulations, made shortly after taking office in 2010, directly contradicts one of the aims stated by the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

The Government’s Strategic Framework for Road Safety was published in May 2011 to coincide with the global launch of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

UN General Assembly resolution 64/2551 of March 2010 proclaimed 2011–2020 the Decade of Action for road safety, with a global goal of stabilizing and then reducing the forecasted level of global road fatalities by increasing activities conducted at national, regional and global levels.”  – Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020

To launch the campaign in the UK, the Prime Minister was joined at No. 10 in May 2011 by F1 stars Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

The Government is also supporting the European Commission’s target of halving road deaths by 2020.

However, in an open letter to The Times on 11 July 2011, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) slated the Government’s Strategic Framework for Road Safety for its “noticeable lack of ambition“, and urged the Government “to implement strategies that will meet the European target of reducing deaths by 50 per cent by 2020“. The letter is signed by four former Ministers for Road Safety and number of road safety organisations.

The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety lays out actions to be carried out by national governments:

“4.2.1 National level activities

At a national level countries are encouraged to implement the following five pillars, based on the recommendations of the World report on road traffic injury prevention and proposed by the Commission for Global Road Safety.

Pillar 1: Road safety management

Activity 1: Adhere to and/or fully implement the major United Nations road safety related agreements and conventions …

including: …

Convention on Road Signs and Signals, of 8 November 1968, setting up a set of commonly agreed road signs and signals”

Section C, II, 1(e) of Annex 1 of the 1968 Convention specifies the units for vehicle restriction signs:


Imperial restriction signs contravene the Vienna Convention on Road Signs And Signals

As the United Nations clearly states that full compliance with the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals is one of the key actions that a government should be taking in support of the UN Decade of Action On Road Safety, it is quite extraordinary that the Department for Transport (DfT) makes no mention of the Vienna Convention in its Strategic Framework for Road Safety. It is also notable that the Traffic Signs Policy Review by the UK Department for Transport (DfT), which began 2008 and fizzled out in 2011, made no attempt to address the issue of road signs that are non-compliant with the Convention.

Instead, the Government took a defiant stance. In 2010, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, dropped the planned requirement for metres as well as feet and inches to be used on width and height restriction signs. This was despite widespread support within the industry for the proposal, and estimates of savings that would be made according to the DfT’s own consultation paper.

Given the implications for road safety of the UK’s failure to implement properly the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, it is regrettable that the United Nations’ advice is being ignored. It is hoped that the forthcoming review road traffic signs will ensure that they are fully compliant with the Vienna Convention.


UN Decade of Action on Road Safety

The FIA Foundation on road safety

Resource for parents on road safety

European Commission outlines measures to halve road deaths by 2020

Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals 1968

6 thoughts on “Government decision contradicts road safety initiatives”

  1. From a quick look at the 1968 convention document linked to in the piece, it is not a wholly competent or accurate piece of work with respect to units of measure anyway. For instance, for speed limit signs it suggests the units used for specifying the limits can be clarified by adding “Km” [sic] for “Kilometres” [kilometres per hour?] or “m” [sic] for “Miles” [miles per hour?] to the sign. Should we also lobby the government to follow that advice?


  2. The answer to the suggestion above is no. The Government already comply with the section referred to which states that the units for speed limits should be those in use by the country concerned.

    On the other hand the UK fails to allow metres for distance signs which the convention actually calls for irrespective of which country the sign is in.

    Take the point that “Km” for km/h and “m” for mile/h is incorrect but then they are only examples to suggest how the sign might make it clear whether metric or imperial speed limits are in force. Other than that they don’t appear to be intended as definitive.

    Of course if the UK were to do the sensible thing and use the international system for all road signs with measurement units on them this kind of nonsense would be avoided. Clearly the authors of the document were confused by the prevailing muddle.


  3. It really is lamentable that the government in general, and the DfT in particular, puts short-term politics ahead of road safety (not to mention children’s education, indirectly).

    The government should ratify the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and signals, and it needs to be implemented via the DfT and all its executive agencies. The DfT needs to start planning not only to make all road signs metric, but to implement fully the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, including graphical signs to replace wordy signs where appropriate and use standard symbols.

    This will save a lot of money in maintenance costs in the long term, and improve road safety and reduce the risks of distracting clutter.


  4. Just thought I’d share this tidbit from the USMA mailing list:

    So, it turns out (ironically) that metric speed limit signs are actually legal in the USA … just not present any more but for a handful of exceptions. (I believe there are a few distance signs still up in Arizona near the border with Mexico as well.)


  5. @ Ezra Steinberg 2014-05-18 at 19:14
    Very interesting.
    Very sad to see though that the road sign gives the speed correctly as km/h, but the report doggedly translates this to kph. Will the media ever get the message?


  6. The Associated Press Style Guide does not allow the proper SI symbol, instead mandating AP’s random made-up abbreviation, in direct conflict with the 6th paragraph of section 5.1 of the SI Brochure. In the US, it is impossible for the media to “get the message” as AP directs that it be communicated incorrectly.

    Also FMVSS 101 requires the legend on the kilometer per hour scale to be the correct km/h and does not allow kph in spite the AP “false quote” in the article. Anyone who has ever looked at a US speedometer knows it does not say what AP asserts it says. It is 1984-speak.


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