Working in partnership with London TravelWatch

Diversion routes – the road to satisfaction?

09 April 2021

Motorways and major ‘A’ roads are the most heavily used roads, carrying a third of all traffic and two thirds of freight. Our research shows that users want these roads well maintained, so accept some short-term pain in terms of roadworks for that to happen. This sometimes means roads need to be closed entirely, resulting in a diversion.

“I’ve regularly experienced ‘A’ road and motorway diversions, seldom knowing about them beforehand. I remember a dreadful diversion between the M6 which took you around the houses and onto the M40 after going back in yourself a few dozen times.​”

Members of our road user community told us about their experiences using diversion routes. We found that there can be issues. Diversion routes can lead to a range of unanswered questions, including “where am I being taken?”, “how long’s this going to take” and​ “when will I get back to the main road?”​

“I thought I knew all the symbols until you showed me these ones. I’d always trust my Sat-Nav over these since Waze is so trustworthy and updated in real time by other drivers.​”

Sat-Nav systems seem to be trusted more than physical diversion signs, which is a problem when signs and Sat-Nav instructions do not match. When it comes to the symbols sometimes used, not everybody realises what they are for.  Even when they do, there can be confusion in understanding which symbol to follow, particularly where multiple diversions are crossing at junctions, with different symbols being used.

“I actually have no clue what the symbols mean. I will usually just see the word ‘diversion’ and that will be enough for me but it probably would be helpful to understand what they mean. I’m not sure I would completely trust the signs, especially the ones that are on existing direction signposts.”

Confusion over diversion routes can be a serious issue, as drivers try to navigate unfamiliar roads, often at night. Diversion signs should be clear, including helping people to understand how much time will be added to their journey, with plenty of reassurance that they are on the right road to get back onto their intended route.

Whether diversions are for planned roadworks or unplanned incidents, the issues raised by members of our road user community need to be considered. Transport Focus will continue to work with Highways England to highlight road user issues with diversion routes and encourage improvement.

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