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Roadside messages – helpful or a hindrance?

We know that giving road users’ information at the right time and in the right place is essential for a good journey, but are some signs becoming more of a help than a hindrance?

When our staff have been out and about on motorways and major ‘A’ roads, they’ve fed back how Highways England is getting on with improvements we’ve recommended based on our research. From our time out on the road we know that road signage needs to be more useful for road users. I’ve written previous blogs on the subject here. Where more useful signs have been adopted, such as those now showing estimated delay times we have welcomed Highways England’s innovative (and helpful) new approach. However our recent travels still show that more needs doing.

Two examples spring to mind. We now have signs showing multiple pieces of information about travel times to various junctions, such as this one below. Our incidents and roadworks research shows that users aren’t familiar with junction numbers, so place names are needed on signs like this. Where there are limitations on the number of characters available on the sign, we want to see a single junction showing, leaving room for the place name to be added in. Much more beneficial and helpful to road users.

The second example is where signs are put on roads to warn of forthcoming closures, such as this one below. A useful sign to pre-warn users (although it probably needs to be bigger), but its placement causes confusion as to whether it’s the main carriageway or the slip road that is due to close.

On both signs, the sentiment is absolutely correct. Giving road users’ information is the right thing to do. Giving them accurate information is vital and ensuring that the information is helpful should be a top priority. We want Highways England to look at the roads that they manage through the eyes of a customer. We believe that the use of mystery shoppers is a good way to spot issues such as these. Our continuing research on roads in 2018 will look to keep the pressure on Highways England to improve, on behalf of road users.


  • Chris_M_Ward

    Active signs stating a motorway junction number are useless to anyone who has not pre-programmed a list of motorway junction numbers into their brain.

  • pdfbt40

    Its the same with matrix signs as you come off the trunk road network (who controls them?). Several are mounted off the A3 in Guildford, Surrey.
    “Delays on A320 From “Date”.
    Great but where on A320. I’m only going 5 miles to Woking, so if its water works outside McLaren doesn’t affect me!
    That’s just one of many that irritate me. As said, do the authors ever put themselves in the position of the various typical customers.
    Another similar issue is the location information used by radio stations giving information on traffic conditions. Sometimes these are obviously quoted by traffic control centres, or RPU. SOmetimes they make it up themselves.
    The point is, as with using Junction numbers, they’ll use the names of various towns and villages, often off the route in trouble for A road junctions all for the same eg service area.
    Sorry you need to use consistent names such as those actually on any road signs themselves.

    • Helmsman1946

      Especially for one day closures the day of the week would be useful as when flashing by who has the calendar in their head so if only an occasional user you could simply discount an irrelevant day

  • DaveNunn

    I still have to consciouly work out the junction numbers on the M6 and I’ve been driving on it for 35 years. Just the other week I had to mentally work out the best place to leave the M6 due to overnight works I had only the junction numbers to go on. At least the sat nav on my phone seemed to know what was going on but can I trust it?

  • Helmsman1946

    One which bugs me is “Road closed ahead” could be 100m or 5 miles Better to add distance or name of intersection or village name

  • Transport Focus

    As the watchdog for users of motorways and major ‘A’ roads, we would have to wholeheartedly agree with these comments.

    Our research shows that road users want better, more helpful information on signs and the practice of using a junction number on its own causes issues for motorists who would then need to rely on knowing where every junction number relates to – not practical or indeed helpful in our opinion.

    We travel on these roads ourselves and talk to even more road users through the different pieces of roads research that we do. This means our recommendations are based on solid consumer insight and looks to deliver what road users want.

    There is clearly more to be done in this area, and we’ll keep on pushing Highways England to do more with signage that benefits users and becomes more helpful to them.

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