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Do we still need road signs? Yes we do!

By 9th March 2021 March 10th, 2021 One Comment

The arrival of connected cars and driverless technology has brought into question whether traditional road signs will be needed as much or in the same way ever again, especially with more and more information coming via in-car systems. But are signs really a thing of the past?

While in-car technology will play its part, road signs, albeit more technologically advanced ones, will be needed more than ever. It has been proven several times, in several different scenarios that behaviour is significantly influenced by road signs and with new and emerging forms of transport such as driverless technology, the ability to warn the travelling public how to behave in these vehicles and how to drive with them on the network will mean the need for signs to support this education process on the side of the road will probably never be greater. Proven technology means speed limits and warning messages can be changed at a flick of a button in a control centre, rather than putting road workers at risk near live traffic.

Not only that but signs protect local communities. Will these communities lose their identity if road signs are removed from the side of the road? Parishes and villages rely on signs for so many things. Guidance to a hidden Nation Trust gem maybe, a go-slow sign through a tiny village or maybe warning of a low bridge.

Physical signs also bring many other advantages. As well as the work that has proven behavioural change as a result of physical signs at the side of the road, there are many other benefits.

Vehicle Activated Signs, for example, remain vital to help influence driver to adhere to speed limits. Did you know, on 30 mph roads in built-up areas, 53% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph.  On motorways in non-built-up areas with 70 mph limits, almost half (46%) of car drivers exceed the speed limit, with 11% going faster than 80 mph, according to Department for Transport figures.

Then there is the environment. Again, signs have a positive effect on the way people drive to help reduce emissions. If you can reduce traffic by 10-20% and remove a lot of the congestion, that may have a disproportionate effect on the emissions. This comes at a time when there is more pressure than ever on road authorities to meet air quality targets and in some increasing case-deliver net zero within the next decade.

More signs are being deployed on the network to ensure drivers and those investing their time in more cycling and walking, understand that vital changes to the layout of the road networks have been made and how to behave as a result.

With all this in mind, is it really time to question the need for less signs on the network? Planned, delivered and maintained in the right way, road signs can play a vital role in helping with many challenges, so surely now is the time to invest in technology to make them better alongside work on where and where they should positioned for maximum effect?

Adrian Tatum on behalf of Coeval Ltd

Adrian Tatum is an experienced journalist, editor, content producer and event organiser who has worked for 13 years in the highways and transport sector, regularly engaging with local authorities, key transport organisations and the leading tier 1 and 2 contractors as well as the industry’s key suppliers, innovators and academics.

One Comment

  • James Hale says:

    Thanks for the article Adrian, some really interesting points.

    I think what will be interesting in the coming years is how vehicles and road signs could work together. For example, a lot of new cars can now read speed limit signs and relay that information back to the driver through the infotainment system. So, what is the real impact of a VAS and how would that compare to the same information being displayed in the cockpit of a car? Electronic message signs on the roadside are quite expensive, if they are no more effective than the flashing roundel being displayed in the car then this money could be saved by highway authorities to be spent elsewhere. As well as this, there are some use cases which may benefit from activating the speed limiters of vehicles. 20mph zones outside of schools. Would anyone object to electronically limiting vehicles to 20mph during school opening and closing times? Initially this could be achieved by the vehicles recognising the speed limit roundels. Eventually the vehicles would know where the 20mph zone starts and ends because it would be mapped in a digital TRO system which is uploaded by the car.

    I suppose in the long term technology will replace many, if not all of the road signs. But in the short to medium term there will be a need for it all to work together.

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