The M40 Bunny Sign

Quite possibly the most well known motorway sign in the UK is the “M40 Bunny” sign. Why is it called this, you ask?

Well… look at it…


The less safe-for-work description is “the M40 Playboy Bunny sign”, but it doesn’t really look like that logo. Or so I am told. Picture credit: unknown

I do not like this sign.

There doesn’t seem to be any logical explanation for this sign even existing. Many have suggested it is because of the “unusual nature” of turning left to turn right, but that happens at other motorway junctions too – for example the M1/M18 split, which is still where most people hunting the elusive “The NORTH” turn left to go straight ahead. No such signs exist there.

The Bunny can’t be a response to a road safety problem either as it opened with the M40. In any case, a simple lane drop is hardly unusual. There are others on the M40 itself (Handy Cross is a notorious example).

Some history is useful here: the M42 is, like most motorways, a total bodge job and not what was fully planned. What is now J3A was meant to be where the aborted Strensham-Solihull Motorway would have joined the party (binned off when the M5 was widened in the late 1980s, and has since been widened again as a smart motorway). Why J3A was chosen on a motorway with a new numbering sequence is a mystery, but the best conspiracy theory is someone noticed that the M42 met the M5 at J4A, and also met the M6 at J4A, and decided that J3A somehow fit that pattern. Honestly, don’t try and explain  decisions taken regarding motorways in the UK. You’ll drive yourself off a cliff edge of despair. More info is available at Pathetic Motorways.

Now the design errors are numerous too.

At this point that the sign is actually 2 miles from the diverge, not 1.5 as the sign erroneously states. However, there is a relatively short weaving length from the A3400 to the M42. Maybe the shorter distance keeps people left earlier but I doubt it.

There is also the American dotted lane symbol inside the map drawing. This is something I have always found hideously ugly and unhelpful for navigation. You have no hope of seeing it properly at motorway speeds and it just looks untidy. It adds nothing at this point either, as traffic still has plenty of time to decide on a lane.

The text isn’t aligned with the map properly either, which makes the sign harder to decipher at speed. If you have to slow down from lawful motorway speeds to read the sign then it is not doing its job properly. It’s therefore possible to argue that this sign should be removed and replaced with a conventional “M40/M42 Junction 2 miles” sign as per TSRGD.

The map itself insinuates an at-grade crossing of slip roads too, when in reality there is a flyover. Pedantic, yes, but it’s still misleading!

But the real crime is that this sign is now out of date. As part of the M42 smart motorway works, the original split has been modified to be a tiger-tail diverge, meaning two lanes now exit onto the M42 northbound. The Bunny is therefore telling drivers to merge into a lane they don’t particularly need to use as slower traffic in the left hand lane can be passed comfortably without missing the exit.

These works did not see the sign removed. Indeed, during construction someone made a replica of it!


No. Just, no. Picture credit: unknown

It’s time this wee little bunny was taken out of the field and shot, frankly. Change my mind.

Edit: in response to comments below, if it had to be kept then it needs some work…


A revised version, using the OS symbol for a bridge (not prescribed, so that’s a DfT authorisation straight away), plus the variable element for M6 – which is probably superfluous these days – positioned more logically. I still do not like this sign.



6 thoughts on “The M40 Bunny Sign

  1. I agree, Bryn. Worst sign on the network. And it’s not just us that think so. Ten years or more ago, when it was still hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear programme had a competition to find Britain’s worst sign. This was the first and only entrant – no-one else could beat it!

    Added to the horrors you mention are the ugly variable message elements that never seem to be used and the fact that the normal rule of positioning a destination close to the route arm point is reversed. Here the destination block nearest to each point is *not* the one it leads to!

    I suspect there was an instruction from above (possibly even from a politician) from a level of total signing ignorance, that caused this sign to be made. Someone who themselves gets confused at motorway junctions, no doubt, so thinks everyone else does too. Highways Agency (as it was then) had its own sign authorisation powers and could make the decision unilaterally. I do know that DfT were not happy about this sign, to put it mildly, but couldn’t stop it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t disagree at all with any of your comments which are all valid and its a great article . However I think you can look to consider why this unusual sign was created beyond the whims of an ignorant politician.

    This is perhaps a special case as it is a major strategic route where in fact either direction takes you onto the same motorway and in fact can take you to the same destination. Therefore traffic can’t be clearly directed towards say The North or the M6 or Birmingham itself. A “for Manchester use M42 North” sign wouldn’t work if there was a delay that route.

    This junction is surely heavily used by drivers who rarely do long distance motorway journeys, who especially before sat navs, might well have glanced at the map and seen they need to turn right at the top of the M40.

    Far too many people have no idea of compass directions for North and West to be of any value, although that is a different debate on signage! However especially in a stress situation with little time to decide, perhaps as you get older and don’t make decisions so well, i can see the diagram helping. If you drive annually from say Eastbourne to the North West I should imagine this sign saves many a pensioner from going wrong. As they will be going along at 55 mph they have plenty of time to take it in!

    So for me they were aiming at a nifty way of ensuring that it is glaringly obvious you bear left to turn right, so I can understand it’s purpose.

    I don’t see this as similar to the M1 /M18 split as there the M1 continues as the M18 turns off onto a totally separate number. No one would get confused by exiting a motorway to the left to join another road.

    The M42 issue is, as you state, caused by its history and means you can’t effectively signpost either direction without possibly some confusion. If there was an M43 towards the M5 or theM40 continued West the sign wouldn’t be there.

    I’m not saying it is necessary fornall but just trying to understand why it was initially thought of!

    The dashed line on the other hand is a monstrosity! Perhaps this is intended to give “advanced” motorists an express lane to the M42 North!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. …and yet according to Streetview the current gantry and tiger tail signing from the mile position forwards is both to standard and perfectly clear as to which lane one should be in. There is no need for this sign, it should simply be removed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always hated this sign but… your redesign is actually worse! The destination you keep left for is on the right and the destination you keep right for is on the left – which is presumably what the well-meaning but misguided individual who designed the original was trying to avoid by putting the destinations at the bottom. Both signs are pretty terrible though, trying to trace lines that cross over on a sign approaching you at 70mph is not easy.

    Of course what should have been used was a standard 2904.2 lane diagram, which has always been fine for the conceptually identical M5 split where it meets the M6.

    Hopefully it’ll all be swept away in favour of gantries when M40 J16-17 gets upgraded to smart motorway in a couple of years’ time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. @James B,
    I think the sign at the M1/M18 split that Bryn is referring to is a different one … if you’re coming down the M18, you keep right to go left onto the M1, and you turn off to the left to go right onto the M1.

    The problem with the existing sign is that it can be read either way … one person will look at it and see M42(N) on the left-hand side of the sign and so will get in the left-hand line … while another person will look at it and see the M42(N) on the left-hand side of the sign and will notice that it is the right-hand lane that you need to go left, and so will get in the right-hand lane(s).

    Liked by 1 person

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