Obscured road signs: what to do and how to reduce risk

Friday, July 10, 2020 - 07:30
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Breakdown and road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist is encouraging drivers to report any road signs hidden by trees or bushes. Hidden road signs are at best a nuisance for drivers, and at worst can be misleading and dangerous, according to GEM.

Obscured road signs

Without attention this STOP sign will soon become fully obscured

The safety call comes at a time when roadside vegetation is at its thickest and maintenance of signs may not be a priority for already stretched authorities.

GEM chief executive Neil Worth comments: “Road signs provide vital information for drivers, who will plan their speeds and actions based either wholly or in part on what the signs tell them.

“If you can’t see a sign, then your ability to make safe decisions is compromised, especially if you’re on unfamiliar roads. Nourished by recent rain, vegetation at this time of year tends to be at its most prolific, meaning more and more signs risk being partially or completely covered. It’s a growing menace that puts road users at risk.

“We can help highways authorities and local councils to know where the problems are by using the reporting facilities they provide. It is vital for road safety that trees, bushes and branches are not allowed to obscure important information, and that everyone using the roads has a clear view of speed limit and other signs.”

GEM encourages drivers to report obscured road signs to the appropriate local authority, and to remember that a limit of 30mph usually applies to all traffic on all roads with street lighting, unless there are signs to say otherwise.

The problem extends beyond local roads. A survey last year by Transport Focus revealed that nearly a third of drivers had missed a motorway exit, either because of concealed or poorly-designed signs.

What you can do

For England and Wales, use the Government website to determine the local authority responsible for a sign location. You will then be given a link to the home page of the appropriate local authority, but it will then be up to you to find your way to the right page.

In Scotland, Transport Scotland is responsible for motorways and trunk roads. Local authorities maintain other public roads.

Northern Ireland’s NI Direct Government website takes you straight to a page where you can report a problem with a sign. If the sign has already been reported, you can add your name to a list of people reporting it.

If you’re reporting obscured road signs on a motorway or trunk road in England, you could also use the TransportFocus ‘Sort My Sign’ website. Just enter the location, road name or post code and enter details of the problem. Your report will be sent to Highways England.

How you can reduce risk

  • Sometimes knowing the shape of a sign is all you need. For example, ‘Stop’ is the only octagonal-shaped sign, and it means exactly that. Your wheels musts top turning.
  • ‘Give Way’ is the only upside down triangular sign. So even if you can’t read what it says, you know that you are approaching a junction.
  • Be ready for a change of speed limit. If you’re on a country road, look far ahead. If there are houses, a church, or other buildings in view then you can be ready for a change of speed limit to 30mph.
  • If a hidden road sign means you miss your turning off a motorway or trunk road, don’t take risks by making a last-minute swerve onto the slip road. Carry on (usually to the next junction) and turn when it is safe and legal.

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