In its response to a Department for Transport consultation the UK Metric Association has recommended that the erection of new vehicle height, width and length restriction signs that display only feet and inches should no longer be permitted.
On 1 May the Department for Transport (DfT) launched a much anticipated consultation on the proposed revision in 2015 of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (These are the regulations that determine the design and positioning of road traffic signs on highways throughout Great Britain. They are accompanied by a Traffic Signs Manual and working drawings (in millimetres) of every sign). The closing date for submissions was 12 June.
Unfortunately, the consultation was limited to minor points of detail, and did not address the major issues identified by UKMA in its leaflet Traffic Signs 2.0. The preface to the DfT consultation includes the following statement:
“We have engaged with stakeholders throughout the traffic signs review and the draft Schedules are based on the recommendations in ‘Signing the Way’. The questions in this consultation are therefore seeking clarification on points of detail to enable delivery. We will consider amendments in light of comments received but we cannot provide new or significantly different regulations or sign designs.
Please note the new TSRGD will not make any changes to the units of measurement used in the UK traffic signing system. The Government has decided to retain the imperial unit system for this purpose, and this matter is therefore out of scope of this consultation.”
In its response, which can be read at this link, UKMA commented that “it is regretted that short term political considerations have outweighed the requirements of road safety”.
In view of this blatantly political warning, UKMA decided not to repeat its call for changes to the units on existing signs but rather to comment on the availability of existing designs for the erection of new or replacement signs.
For many years the DfT has recommended that all future height and width restriction signs should include both metric and imperial dimensions. For example, the 2004 update of the Traffic Signs Manual includes the following recommendation:
“Metric heights may be shown in addition to imperial heights at any bridge. This is recommended for all bridges on main routes and on roads used frequently by foreign drivers.”
By 2008 this had been strengthened to
“The sign to diagram 629A is a combined metric and imperial version of the width limit sign. … It is recommended that this sign is used in preference to the sign to diagram 629.”
UKMA reasoned that since the DfT’s professional view is clearly that imperial-only signing of height and width restrictions is undesirable on safety grounds, it would be acceptable and “within scope” to recommend that the option to continue to use imperial-only signs for new and replacement signs should be withdrawn. This is the main thrust of UKMA’s recommendations.
UKMA’s submission is accompanied by a Freedom of Information survey of current practice in the signing of vehicle dimension restrictions in the UK. The report can be read at this link. One of its main conclusions was that
“This study has also found widely varying practices when it comes to signage of vehicle restrictions by highway authorities around the UK. There is inconsistency between the signs permitted in the TSRGD and the recommendations within the Traffic Signs Manual, and numerous authorities are unaware of the latest guidance, with one still believing that the 1994 regulations are still current. Some authorities choose to disregard the advice of the Traffic Signs Manual on the basis that it is only guidance and its recommendations cannot be enforced.”
The report then goes on to revive the DfT’s 2009 proposal (subsequently cancelled in 2010 by the new government) that Highway Authorities should be required to replace all imperial-only vehicle restriction signs within a reasonable period. The upfront cost of this proposal would be tiny, while the potential long term benefits (especially in terms of reduced bridge strikes) would be substantial. (See this link for more details of this failed proposal).
What happens next?
The DfT’s consultation document promises that a summary of the responses to the consultation will be published within three months. Final decisions will then be made and the necessary secondary legislation laid before Parliament in February 2015, with a view to coming into effect in March.