This weekend we heard the sad news that 26 people were injured when a double-deck bus hit a low bridge in Tottenham, north London. But could this accident have been prevented?
The driver of the bus evidently ignored the height restriction signs and failed to stop before hitting the railway bridge in St Loy’s Road, Tottenham. We do not know why the driver failed to take heed of the signs; but we can look at whether the signs, the responsibility of Haringey Council, were as good as they could be.
As photographs of the accident illustrate, the bridge was signed, with a height restriction of 13 feet 3 inches; the signs have been in place for several years, and therefore do meet the minimum legal standard. But do they meet the recommended standard? Clearly, they do not.
Since 1994, it has been recommended by the government that low bridges should be signposted not only in imperial units, but also in metres; the Department for Transport has concluded that the inclusion of metres is safer, and this is supported by an overwhelming majority of highway authorities. This government guidance was strengthened in subsequent releases of the Traffic Signs Manual, and the current law permits the erection only of dual-unit signs, which include metres, although no deadline was set for the removal of pre-existing imperial-only signs.
Therefore while the signs in St Loy’s Road were legal, they certainly fell short of the recommended standards and guidance, and it will be interesting to know if this is taken into account.
Haringey Council cannot claim to be unaware of the sign standards. In 2013, UKMA conducted a survey of highway authorities across the UK, which fed into a report in 2014, and Haringey accepted that metres should be added to such signs, stating in September 2013:
“The Council is aware that the Traffic Signs Manual recommends that all warning and regulatory signs displaying height, width and length restrictions, should show the restriction dimensions in metres as well as imperial units. We are currently reviewing our bridge height and width restriction signs to ensure that they are clearly visible and provide information in metric and imperial units. The review will identify any signage requiring attention.”
We applauded the Council’s recognition of this problem, so were disturbed to learn that 26 people have now been injured in an accident at a site where imperial-only signs are still in place, three years after the Council acknowledged that the signs was substandard. Although we cannot say if the units were a factor in this particular accident, it does highlight the need to take very seriously the signing of such obstructions over the highway, and to do everything possible to follow the latest guidance to make the signage as good as it can be.
UKMA hopes that Haringey, and all other highway authorities in the UK, will now redouble their efforts to make our roads safer and bring their low bridge signing up to modern standards, which includes showing height limits in metres on all such signs.