Understanding the DfT Traffic Signs Approval Process

As a basic rule of thumb, if a sign is not in the TSRGD, you’re not supposed to use it. However, the DfT are willing in limited circumstances to consider authorising a bespoke sign for use at a specific location. This is a pragmatic position, but until recently the lack of flexibility in the old TSRGD meant that the DfT were issuing far too many authorisations because of the simple fact as Traffic Orders have become more complex there was no adequate way of signing them using the prescribed material in the Regulations.

The 2008 revision to Chapter 3 of the Traffic Signs Manual gave us a variant to ‘multiple condition’ parking bays, e.g. limited waiting or permit holders.


This type of sign was widely advocated by TSM Chapter 3, but using it meant getting a DfT authorisation.

An interim fix in 2011 was to issue what was known as the ‘Mass Authorisations’; a series of documents that allowed the use of additional parking plate combinations. At the same time, to prevent various alternatives to similar non-prescribed signs cropping up all over the country, the DfT provided a very useful database which helps designers see what has been approved elsewhere. Its only downside is that it only goes back to 2011.

Unfortunately, this did not necessarily cover all bases and still the requests were pouring in.

In 2013, the DfT understandably called time on the vast numbers of authorisations. On 17th June 2013, they announced that pending the new TSRGD no new signs would be authorised, simply so they could clear the ever increasing backlog that had built up due to other staff commitments such as ensuring the new Regulations were prepared in time.

I was fortunate enough to get one important authorisation for a former employer through in time. A very controversial parking review had identified the need for limited waiting bays that could also be shared with permit holders. However, some of these streets were very leafy residential suburbs with a lot of vocal opposition to the amount of clutter Dia. 1028 bays would cause. I therefore was tasked with finding a happy medium; I came up with the idea to approach the DfT and ask if I could break the link between signs and lines, as had been alluded to in the early consultations for TSRGD’s re-write in Signing the Way.

The folks at the DfT, after much deliberation, settled on a wording they were happy with, and an authorisation was issued. This document can be seen here. I am very pleased to note that Southampton City Council are now using the same concept.

So, how do you get a sign authorised?

First off if you can make the sign under the new flexibility the TSRGD now provides, you do that. This is the simple and easy solution for most problems.

Secondly, you may want to consider is the situation you need a bespoke sign for over-complicated for a valid reason? This especially applies to parking signs. If it can be simplified, aim to do so – otherwise you could be in for a world of hurt with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal down the line when they decide your sign is too complex and thus not enforceable.

If all these steps are satisfied, then you need the relevant application form. This is available on request from the DfT. You have to fill in the tick boxes and provide the information regarding what, where, how, and why. Remember, justification is very important; a sign for a sign’s sake is unlikely to be approved. Accident data, responses from the public, even evidence of ‘testing’ the sign on other engineers to see if they grasp what you wish to achieve can help. Plans are very important; but remember that the DfT hasn’t got immediate access to plotters so any drawings bigger than A3 are no good if sent in hard copy. Luckily, these days electronic application forms are often accepted and these sometimes have huge drawings attached.

The DfT will then pay close attention to what you have proposed, and if you’re lucky, it’ll be approved. This takes time, often several months, due to the amount of work involved.

Some of the finished signs in Skircoat, Halifax. The black poles were also to reduce the visual impact of the signs.

I’ve had several runs through the approvals process; often because I like to try a bit of innovation to solve a problem (as we did in Skircoat), or because of a project needing some additional features that aren’t prescribed.

Authorisations I have submitted to the DfT during my career that are viewable on the database are:

There are others, but these went in before the DfT published them online. These included the replacement of over 100 parking signs in Halifax town centre to use the ‘shared’ format, and other replacements in Brighouse.

The new flexible TSRGD has certainly made my life easier in that respect.

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