In ten years, the number of road signs has almost doubled, to an estimated 4.5 million.
Changes in the law, introduced on 22nd April 2016, should spell the end for the plethora of pointless road signs.
Councils have now been given the power to remove unnecessary and pointless road signs.
The new powers, contained in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, are intended to
- Ensure short term road signs have a ‘remove by’ date on the reverse so they are not needlessly left in place for years, e.g. ‘new road layout’
- make sure traffic signs are visible on unlit roads
- Stop temporary message signs from being cluttered with adverts and distracting logos
The government has estimated the reduction in road signs will save £30m by 2020.
Most councils use the Traffic Signs Manual to determine which signs to put and where. These guidelines are often used by courts and parking appeals panels to determine whether a motorist is guilty of a traffic offense. Slight problem as the Traffic signs manual has not yet been updated to reflect the changes in the law!
Patrick McLoughlin, transport secretary, explained: “Road signs should only be installed on our roads when they are essential. Our common-sense reforms will help get rid of pointless signs that are an eyesore and distract drivers.
“These new rules will also save £30m in taxpayers’ cash by 2020, leaving drivers with just the signs they need to travel safely.”
The Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE) are generally in favour of the governments intentions of removing roadside clutter but felt some important considerations had not been though through. Simon Morgan, who represented the IHE during the Government’s consultation process, said: “Until more guidance is available on using the new options, many authorities are uncertain how parking adjudicators and the courts will handle any problems of public understanding.
“Reducing clutter is an admirable objective, but for it to work there needs to be information for road users to help them understand a regime of fewer signs.”
Simon Williams, RAC spokesman, said: “Signage is at its most effective when it’s well designed and used in just the right location – and that location is rarely one that is surrounded by a plethora of other signs. A move to de–clutter our roadsides therefore makes a lot of practical, as well as economic sense, and will be welcomed by the 63% of motorists we spoke to that said our roads are too full of unnecessary signage.
“While responsibility for local signage should rest with councils, we do not believe the option of axing small speed limit repeater signs makes much sense. All road users benefit from regular reminders of the speed limit, especially on roads where the limit is not immediately obvious.”
Legal experts are concerned the new rules could open the floodgates to drivers appealing against speeding tickets. Inadequate signage is already a common reason for which to appeal against and penalty charges. According to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, almost half of the 2,000 drivers who appealed against their parking ticket in 2015 on the basis of insufficient signage, were successful.
Manchester celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman, aka “Mr Loophole” due to successfully defending celebrities such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Jeremy Clarkson, said: “Insufficient signage is a very strong defence and courts look favourably on it. It is a legal requirement that the signs are clear and it is made obvious to the driver what the speed limit is.
“Each case would be judged on its merits, but in cases where the driver is genuinely unaware of the limit because the signs weren’t there, or had been removed, I would expect a positive outcome.”