Why do highway authorities take so long to replace worn-out signs?

There are some worn-out signs that have been in place for months, possibly years, but await replacement. On 4 May 2023, I contacted my local council to ask them to replace a worn-out height sign with a new one. It has been worn out for at least two years but has still not been replaced. I know that it has been worn out for this long because I still have a picture of this worn-out sign that I took on ‎26 ‎May ‎2021. Despite informing the local council highway authority that it needs replacement, it has still not been replaced.

This is the height sign that I asked the local council highway authority to replace:

I emailed the London Borough of Barnet, the local council, saying:

“This bridge height sign is in Highfield Avenue in Golders Green. It is worn out and due for replacement.

I suggest you look at all other vehicle dimension signs, among others, and replace all worn out signs with new ones.”

I expect the local council to know that this imperial-only height sign must be replaced with a dual unit sign when they get round to doing the work. Dual units have been mandatory since April 2016 when the TSRGD 2016 came into force. Despite the fact that metres have been mandatory on all new and replacement vehicle dimension signs for over seven years, there is no deadline for replacing imperial-only vehicle dimension signs. Many still remain.

After I emailed the highway authority, I immediately received the following automated reply:

“Thank you for contacting Highways Correspondence.

I can confirm your enquiry will be logged, and we will aim to respond, or provide requested information, within 10 working days.

To report a parking enforcement issue, please contact the parking 24-hour enforcement line on 020 3856 0020 or parking.clientteam@barnet.gov.uk

To report a fallen tree or a tree maintenance issue, please contact parks@barnet.gov.uk

To report a rubbish or fly tipping issue, please contact 02083594600 or Report it now | Barnet Council

We have provided more useful links to our website below.



I have heard nothing since then. It is disappointing that they have not addressed the issue I raised with them or told me when they will replace this worn-out sign or others like it. It is more disappointing that they have not replied to my request. Their automated reply does not count as a proper reply.

If you spot a worn-out imperial-only vehicle dimension sign, email the local highway authority with an image of the sign and ask them to replace it. You don’t have to mention anything about measurement units. We expect highway authorities to know that dual units are now mandatory for vehicle height, width and length signs and that imperial-only vehicle dimension signs are no longer authorised. Dual units have now been mandatory for over seven years. Don’t be discouraged by my personal experience. We need to keep up the pressure to get the old signs replaced.

13 thoughts on “Why do highway authorities take so long to replace worn-out signs?”

  1. I think the answer is clearly that all Councils are struggling badly with funding after 13 years of austerity?… With what limited funding they had, they are forced to prioritise safety issues like serious highway defects, collapses, locations with fatalities etc. A bridge height sign which is faded but still legible will be at the very bottom of their list I’m afraid.


  2. Just wondering if the TSRGD requires both metric and Imperial on the same sign or if it allows for two separate signs (perhaps stacked vertically)? I ask only because having two separate signs would make it easier to go completely metric at some point by simply removing the Imperial sign.

    [Ed. – Yes, the TSRGD requires both metric and imperial units for height, width and length restriction signs to be shown alongside each other. They can either be shown on the same sign or on separate adjacent signs.]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. @Erza, It does, but local authorities don’t want to do that because they are paying for two signs and it is an inefficient use of space. It should also be very apparent that switching over from metric isn’t a priority for them, and such a move would need to come from above.

     There is no good reason for imperial to be there, it is just unnecessary clutter. After all, in the handbook, the dimensions would be given in metric only, and they would needlessly have to provide imperial conversions to comply with the law. Metric-only restrictions are also extensively used in the private sector, so they would already need to know their vehicle height in metric in order to get into petrol stations and depots. It is just another example of the DFT and politicians being stubborn, only doing the minimum when pressured to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Since your city doesn’t seem to have the funds to replace the sign, why don’t you fix it yourself ala ARM? First get some red paint to repair the triangular edges. Then paint the interior white and finally get an adhesive sticker saying 4.5 m to cover over the numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sadly i just got a reply back from the Department of Transport via my MP. It seems there is no intention to change all signs nationally, the primary reason they give is cost. The last estimate from 2007 including publicity, project management, planning and implementation was £760m which they dont see as value for money as there is, apperently, “no evidence of a risk to road users”


  6. I just got a reply from the department of transport via my MP. Apparently there is no intention to change signs to metric the main reason they give is cost. Last estimate in 2007 including advertising, project management, planning and implementation was £760m. They deem it low priority as apparently “there is no evidence of a risk to road users”

    They did make special mention of Bridge strikes (as i did in my initial letter) they just said risks should be largly eliminated by clear signage with both units. Just as we can see happening in this post huh.


  7. In the business world, when providing a cost for either a product or a service, it is quite common to obtain multiple quotes, and go with the cheapest. Whoever came up with the 760 M£ price may have over-exaggerated the price as a deliberate means to scare off anyone from approving a go forward.

    I’m sure they didn’t even consider the Canadian approach, that was to apply adhesive stickers with metric values over the old values. Only when the sign has aged to the point of needing a replacement was the sign actually changed to one showing metric values. This reduced the cost tremendously.

    I did get a chuckle when I saw “£760m”, originally interpreting it as 760 m£ instead of 760 M£. For sure it would be worth the price if it was only 760 m£.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That £760 million figure has been refuted on this blog before. https://metricviews.uk/2017/10/22/dft-myths-and-reality/ That figure is based upon the assumption that they would need to physically replace all the distance signs (despite admitting in it that they can simply put an overlay sticker on the gantry signs thus saving a lot of money) and they have included a 45-65% “optimism bias” on top of that. So this figure is not credible and even if it was, it would still be a fairly insignificant amount of money in the grand scheme of things.

    To put it into perspective, the UK government budget for 2019/20 was £842 billion with £37 billion of that going onto transport, so the idea that road signs are still in imperial because they can’t afford it is quite frankly laughable. Especially when they are happy to spend £1.4 billion on improving one junction.


    It is also quite telling that they dismiss any potential benefits and disingenuously try to claim that as it isn’t about improving safety, it doesn’t make it worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. @AlexM: I agree that the figure £769 million is too high. The UKMA figure of £80 million as per a previous Metric Views article is probably low due to inflation etc. If we double the UKMA figure we get £160 million. How can that money be raised?

    If 0.1 p per litre of the tax on fuel were put aside to pay for metrication, then the money could be raised in five years. In arriving at that figure, I have assumed 30 million vehicles in the UK, each doing, on average, 15000 km per annum with an average consumption of 8 L/100 km. These figures give £36 million per annum.

    Another way would be to put a levy of 0.1% on the price of each new vehicle. Assume 2.5 million new vehicles a year at an average price of £25,000 (including HGVs, white vans etc). The result of this levy would be an average of £25 per vehicle and would raise £62.5 million per annum.

    I think that these proposals show just how small the financial cost of metrication is.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. “I have assumed 30 million vehicles in the UK, each doing, on average, 15000 km per annum with an average consumption of 8 L/100 km.”

    Just over 3 years ago I switched to an EV, We now have 2 and are an all EV family. One thing I see a lot on UK facebook EV groups is the emergence of Miles Per kwh. Its one I hoped would never catch on, but sadly the UK insistence on miles has really cemented its presence.

    Everyone else uses kwh/100km, which you get used to really quickly, it also has the advantage of being instantly and easily divisable to give Watts per Km in real time. Using metric units with the EV uptake would have been an ideal time to get the public used to measuring efficiency differently with a different technology.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This thread is about the replacement of old signs, but can I put out a general question to the many experts among you? Does the Department for Transport need special authorisation or permission from Westminster to upgrade road signs to metric units, to increase consistency with the units of measurement and weight taught in schools? Because if it does, we won’t see that happen until Central Government takes the decision to complete the interminably-drawn-out process of switching to metric units. I know that government departments largely work independently of each other and that is why there is a lack of joined-up thinking between Education and Transport. It should be obvious that the units you teach to your children at school are the units they will see on the signs outside their school. How else are they to understand that these are the normal units used on the roads? Do other countries teach metric in the classroom but have alien units on the road signs outside the school? I don’t think they do. How can a country like the UK that considers itself progressive and forward-thinking even allow this shambles to continue and for so long? How can you have metres and yards on the same road sign? The UK seems to manage to do this with signs for bridge heights in metres announcing a bridge so many ‘yards’ ahead. Surely even the most non-technically or scientifically minded person would see that this is a travesty? How can a country do this to itself, or rather to its people? The problem is, unless you step back and think about these things you don’t realise how ludicrous they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Metricnow asks:

    “Does the Department for Transport need special authorisation or permission from Westminster to upgrade road signs to metric units…?

    Doesn’t the present highway code forbid the use of metric units on road signs? Wouldn’t the law need to be changed to either require metric units or just to allow them? Members of the metric opposition claim that metric units on road signs are illegal and thus feel justified to amend them on their own.

    Actually, I have never seen or heard a clear response to the question as to whether metric units are illegal or not as claimed. Question is, if they are illegal, why are they illegal? Why can’t metric at least be allowed on road signs? This would at least allow those to want them to install them without fear of them being removed or damaged.

    Even if this would create a mixture of metric and imperial on roads, it might be the only means to eventually see the mess a mixture creates and result in a forced completion. This is what happened in Ireland. Irish road metrication was slow until 2005 when metrication of road signs was finally completed.


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