Councils throughout the UK are being urged to declutter and remove all unnecessary road signs. So far almost 9000 have been removed. The culmination of the biggest review of our use of road signs for 40 years is finally underway.

The process has it’s roots in the lifting of the requirements for certain road signs in October 2011, freeing up councils to use common sense when deciding whether or not to put up road signs. Ok, councils and common sense sets my alarm bells ringing a bit as well but on the whole, this is a good thing.

rural sign clutter from lifedownloaded.com

If you could view England from the air, you would see very clearly that the majority of our green and pleasant land is still comfortably green, rural and pleasant, almost 80% in fact. There is nothing better than driving through a pretty rural village in late evening summer sunshine in your favourite car on the way to somewhere beautiful. And equally there is nothing more stressful than being on a tight schedule and not knowing where you are going – so surely the more signs, the better?

Not so, excessive signage is more of a distraction and hindrance to motorists than a help. Let’s face it, travelling at 40mph gives you a very short time to process and make a decision based on what might be a very confusing sign whilst being tailgated by the local impatient hatchback. Add into that equation having to select which of a gathering of tightly knit signs is relevant to you and you start to see my point.

sign not in use from highwaysindustry.com

Many of us have left map reading at the wheel behind us now. I remember travelling in Cornwall with a couple a few years back. She said to him “you never seem to notice any of the beautiful things we drive past” his reply was “that’s ’cause I’m always driving with a giant map flapping over the steering wheel Rach…”

It made me laugh, but highlights a big revolution over recent years in the the way we navigate. One of the best purchases I have ever made has been my Sat Nav. A combination if this and common sense has got me faultlessly to my destination countless times without any stress. And a calm voice saying “turn left” is far safer than a map over the steering wheel. And you get to see the sights on the way too. It’s possible that satellite navigation has made the existence of some signs near redundant.

It was November 2012 when we first heard from the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin announcing that road signs that clutter the countryside or state the obvious were to be banned. But I didn’t think that the process would actually gain momentum as quickly as it has, but what a very good thing.

cluttered signs from politicshome.com

McLoughlin said something that we alll knew already, that new signs “..were added without any apparent consideration of existing ones or what’s needed.” Hallelujah to that. At it’s worse, a hideous blot on our landscape, ruining the aesthetics of beautiful, rural villages and downright ugly, and at best, simply unnecessary.

Looking at the selection of images here was amusing at first, then it simply made me angry. The lack of common sense and forethought and intelligence that has allowed this country’s roads to become the cluttered mess that they are is astounding.

But it’s not just the pointlessness of it all, placement needs to be thought about too. Only the other day I crossed a road having to duck down to see under a sign to make sure the road was safe to cross. How someone could place that sign there without any pedestrian consideration is beyond me.

The new government guidance for road signs should be in place by Autumn 2013, while in the meantime, McLoughlin’s message to planners is simply, if in doubt, don’t do it.

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