When things go wrong…

Much mileage has been made by the popular press historically with regard to traffic signs that are wrong, or misleading. Spelling mistakes, ironically given the low quality of proof-reading in many local newspapers, seem to be an instant win for ‘council-bashing’ type journalists.

The sad thing is, it’s easy to mock. It’s less easy to provide a constructive critique of what has gone wrong and how to avoid it occurring again in the future.

Take this example, which should be completely impossible to create as a sign yet has worked its way out onto the street:


The error may be subtle; but there is a crucial issue with this one. The arrows on the Dia. 522 sign have somehow been reversed either in the design or manufacturing stage, giving the impression that this particular road drives on the right. Oddly, the corresponding sign across the street from this one is correct, despite both having been installed at the same time.

Note: This particular example is hidden out of view of most traffic within an area restricted to buses only so this will be why it has slipped under the watchful eye of the general public. It does not make the error any less urgently in need of correction!

Many might say “so what?”, and they may have a point. It still tells you that a two-way street crosses a one-way traffic flow. Only a fool would drive on the wrong side! Alas, bitter experience in traffic engineering has taught me that fools are plentiful, and they will use a mistake like this as a justification for their foolishness.

One would hope that the sign was not designed incorrectly and that a simple failure of quality control has occurred. If not, this presents some worrying issues for design engineers.

As budgets are stretched, and traffic signs are increasingly viewed as a job an entry-level technician can do with minimal supervision (‘just open the book and copy what you see’ appears to be the way people are taught traffic sign design in many places), this kind of error will start to repeat itself in more and more ways.

Other errors are incredibly subtle; for instance:


Backing board issues aside, the problem here is the Dia. 810 “one way” sign. This sign is explicitly intended for pedestrians so they know when crossing a road that one-way traffic applies. Therefore the application here is wrong, as the slip road is joining a dual carriageway, not a one-way street. There is a legal difference particularly regarding the rules of using lanes and passing traffic on the left, even if it is extremely subtle.

The correct sign to use for these situations is Dia. 609 “turn left ahead” arrow with a supplementary “Dual carriageway” plate. This, however, is arguably superfluous as there is a Dia. 606 with supplementary plate on the central reservation (although at this site it could do with a good clean). I dare say it has been placed in response to a complaint about the junction and the cheapest option was to provide an inappropriate sign.

This error is not going to cause any immediate safety issues, so it is unlikely anyone would be demanding its immediate replacement unlike the incorrect Dia. 522 above.

However, there is surely a professional pride concern to address; why aren’t we ensuring we provide the right sign for the right place as a matter of routine?

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