60 years of standardised road signs: which are the most confusing?

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Published on 5 November 2015 by Gill

Some 90% of British motorists say they find road signs confusing, with an alarming third unable to recognise the national speed limit and more than 40% confused by the ‘no vehicles’ sign, new figures have revealed.

The research, commissioned by car finance company Zuto, marks 60 years since the introduction of standardised road signs in the UK and has shown that confusion at the wheel is rife.

Almost half of drivers believe that there are too many signs on the road, with one in twenty admitting they’ve made driving mistakes due to confusing road signs. As a result a new taskforce is being setup by the Government to review the current state or road signs, and decide on a potential roadside cull.

Almost one in ten said they found the ‘men’ at work road sign sexist and due for a makeover, while over four million UK drivers don’t understand the ‘level crossing without a barrier’ sign, a further 31% failed to recognise the National Speed Limit sign.

James Wilkinson, CEO of Zuto, commented: “At Zuto we’re all about making drivers feel confident getting on the road and we were curious to dig deep and find out what made motorists unconfident when they get behind the wheel.

“As the research has shown, I’m sure every motorist can relate to being baffled by road signs at some point and, after 60 years serving the UK roads, perhaps it’s time for some signs to enter retirement.”

roadsignThe research also revealed that one in four don’t recognise the ‘Cars & Motorbikes Prohibited’ sign, with 13% incorrectly believing the exact opposite of the sign’s meaning – that cars and motorbikes are allowed.

But Britain’s most confusing sign is one only half of all motorists recognise, the admittedly bizarre sign for ‘no vehicles carrying explosives’, while almost a quarter don’t understand the archaic ‘no horse drawn vehicles’ sign.

And with travel light years away before motorists can say “beam me up Scotty” to get from A to B - road signs of the not so distant future were also explored; with digital warnings when emergency services are approaching and ‘increase your space’ warnings topping the list. Projected holograms in front of cars, to avoid taking your eye off the road, and signs that allow drivers to communicate with each other, with careful censoring, were also high on the wish list:

  1. Signs which tell drivers to increase space – 42%
  2. Signs which warn of emergency vehicles approaching – 41%
  3. Signs which tell drivers using mobile phones to stop – 41%
  4. Signs which all read the same in critical situations i.e. emergency – 36%
  5. Signs which allow drivers to communicate i.e. Stop Tailgating! – 27%
  6. Signs which graphically depict accidents to deter reckless driving – 18%
  7. Hologram signs on the road, rather than on the sides, to avoid distraction – 13%