Time o' the signs

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Stop! Give Way! 30! Slow Down! Warning! Speed Cameras! Don’t do that! Think Bike! Pay attention! Arrrrrrrghhhhh too muuuuch!

On my way to work they’ve just altered the speed limit for a section of the country road from the national limit down to 40. No real reason I can see, just the usual whimsical alterations as part of using up budgets to justify the same pot of money next fiscal year.

In this case — and many like it — I do think the methods employed are somewhat over the top. Here’s what I see on approach to the new 40 zone, all within the space of 20 yards:

  • a set of heavy-painted chevrons that make the car judder as I drive over them
  • a huge painted “40” circle on the road, on top of some of that extra-grip surface stuff
  • two 40 signs on lollipops
  • a speed camera logo on a sign
  • a “New speed limit in force” sign
  • a “THINK! Don’t be sign blind” sign

What do they think I am: 4 years old? Isn’t that just a teensy bit extraneous? To throw six signs at me for a single event in such a tiny time window and then have the audacity to scold me about potentially missing one is simply taking the piss.

No wonder the roads are more perilous than ever; drivers are too busy:

  1. checking their speedometers for fear of fines/points on their licence
  2. being told what to think by sat-nav or road signs
  3. reading superfluous signage

to pay attention to the roads. There’s no time to concentrate on the real skill of driving while there’s a barrage of information being thrown at us.

The human driver

Although I forget where now — probably London somewhere — I remember reading about a particularly hazardous stretch of road that had traffic lights peppered at its primary junction, pedestrian crossings, box junctions painted on it, over-reliance on signage, cameras, etc, etc. Yet fatalities were commonplace and on the rise despite the extra so-called ‘safety’ measures (and money) thrown at the area.

I believe some university professor argued that this sensory overload was the cause of said incidents because people saw other drivers as ‘cars’ not people. The act of obeying signs and being told what to do (and what not to do) over and over somehow dehumanized the driving process.

The upshot was that he managed to convince the council to take away every non-essential sign, traffic light, and road marking to study the effect. Fatalities plummeted to near zero.

His theory was that not having all the information to hand caused drivers to a) think about their surroundings, and b) treat other road users as people, which made the process of driving more human; more social. People slowed down, waved other drivers on, were largely courteous (of course you always get the odd dickhead in a Subaru or BMW!), let people cross the road, and so on. In short, letting people use their brains while driving instead of doing the thinking for them.

I’m not suggesting all signs should be removed: they have their place. But I’m not sure the over-abundance of signage is helping anyone besides the local authorities.

We don’t need no, sign-ducation

It may be that the signage is a by-product of an overly litigious society and the authorities are simply covering their backs (which in itself brings problems: “well you didn’t explicitly tell me to use my headlights at night”), it may be because there’s too much money and they don’t know what to spend it on, or it may be a revenue-generating exercise.

Either way it’s damaging to people. I feel less and less in control of my car as more signs and restrictions are put in place and consider myself a worse driver now compared to even two years ago.

For example, being forced to drive at 20mph near a school at 8pm on a clear road is, quite simply, boring and I do anything but concentrate on the road. There’s no need; after all, there’s nobody around and, even if there was, the adverts imply that I’m unlikely to kill anyone when driving below 30 (which is a fallacy, and bad marketing imo) therefore I’m quite safe to pootle along without paying attention, giving me time to think about my day, to look forward to dinne… ooh look, a cute squirrel.

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