Edmund King announced at the conference that the RAC Foundation has joined with countryside campaigners CPRE to form a new alliance against the cluttering of the English countryside.
King told delegates that signs that are clear, concise, relevant, reliable and timely can improve safety and reduce the number of drivers who get lost each day. Conversely a clutter of contradictory signs, as well as detracting from the beauty of the countryside, lead to confusion that can result in collisions.
Highlighting a case study of a seven-mile section of the B3006 in Hampshire, most of which passes through the designated South Downs National Park, which a CPRE survey found to have 45 signs per mile, King will call on local authorities to:
- carry out “clutter audits” on roads in their counties, as in Hampshire
- restore countryside character through the use of fingerposts and other locally distinctive signage where possible, as in the Surrey Hills
- keep a record of the number of signs they have managed to remove.
King also attacked some of the “appalling and dangerous” build-out or chicane traffic calming schemes in villages which are both a visual eyesore and highly questionable in terms of road safety. He proposed to the transport planners a radical solution of using traditional cattle grids as an effective way of slowing down traffic without ruining the visual environment of small villages.
Research reveals that since the modern system of signage was introduced in 1968 the number of signs in the Highway Code has soared by 44 per cent. Examples of confusing signs have included a bilingual traffic sign in Wales, which gave cyclists the message to “dismount” in English but that “Your bladder disease has returned” in Welsh.
Shaun Spiers, CPRE’s Chief Executive, said: ‘People simply aren’t prepared to put up with our countryside being blighted for no good reason. We want local authorities to think again about putting up unnecessary road signs, and keep our countryside from becoming a nightmare of garish signs and billboards.’
King said: “We are ruining many of our pretty rural areas by putting in hideous traffic calming schemes and far too many signs and lines. We need clutter reviews to remove unnecessary signs and lines. Perhaps we should use more traditional methods such as cattle grids to slow cars down rather than race track chicanes.”
The RAC Foundation and the CPRE are also urging the Government to follow the lead of the Scottish Executive in producing clear guidance on how to manage road furniture in rural areas. Calling on the Government to conduct a formal review of rural signage along the lines of the 1987 Guildford Review of Urban Signage, and highlighting the CPRE’s own “Guidelines on Signage in Rural Areas,” as a starting point, King suggested:
- Clutter audits should be conducted to improve safety and visual/environmental impact.
- Signage at locations with a history of collisions should be examined to ensure that it is legible and simple to follow. While the onus is on drivers to learn signs and re-visit the Highway Code, confusing and poorly maintained signage can contribute to road collisions.
- In rural areas groups of signs should be combined into a single placard if the messages are necessary.
- Some signs should be smaller and shorter. The reverse of signs in rural areas should be painted to blend in with the landscape.
- Obtrusive traffic calming in small rural villages should be replaced with traditional features such as cattle grids.
King also reminded local authorities that all road signs should be regularly maintained, cleaned, kept free of foliage and be accurate.
Visual clutter makes it harder for drivers to perceive traffic lights and other safety signs. If there is too much information for the driver to take in this leads to too much arousal and the driver becomes stressed. High density of visual clutter slows down the search times for important visual information. Much distraction is unconscious but reaction times are slower even if the driver does not know he/she is being distracted.
American studies suggest that in 10 to 30 per cent of all accidents, driver distraction is a factor and one third of these are caused by distractions outside the car. Younger drivers (17-21) are more prone to distractions. However, the figures are probably an underestimate as drivers rarely admit to being distracted, as they are concerned about insurance liability.
The Foundation’s motoring psychologist has argued that “five plus or minus two” is the number of messages or points of information that we can think of and take in at any one time. If we are focusing on too many messages then we can miss some crucial information.
In terms of road safety, King will highlight studies that show that even in built up areas 40 per cent of fatalities are a result of run-off crashes. Of these, 20 per cent hit signs, signposts, telegraph and lamp posts. Fewer signs will therefore create a safer roadside environment.
King suggests that, even in urban areas, fewer and clearer signs can help to reduce confusion and accidents.
Surveys by the Foundation show that more than half of UK motorists admit to not understanding even basic signs in the Highway Code and over half admit to getting lost during holiday journeys. In urban areas at any particular time up to 15 per cent of drivers are estimated to be lost.
Yet across the UK, thousands of road signs which give route directions, street names, limits or hazards are confusing or have disappeared, been knocked down, obscured with grime or foliage or have been damaged.
Picture courtesy of SABRE