Reading the signs - do you know the meaning of these road signs?

Kwik Fit | Thursday 4th August 2016 3:00pm

Road signs

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours list last month Margaret Calvert was awarded with an OBE for services to typography and road safety. The name may not be all that familiar but drivers will certainly be familiar with Calvert’s work and see it every day without even realising it. 

It was the mid-sixties when Margaret Calvert and her colleague Jock Kinneir designed the signage and typeface that would be used across the entire road network in the UK to provide drivers with information, regulations and warnings about the road ahead. Yet Calvert’s iconic pictograms, which include ‘Men At Work’ and ‘Schoolchildren Nearby’, are still in use today and are unchanged in 51 years.

But not all road signs are as recognisable as these Calvert classics. Some are a little less obvious and, in our recent research, we found that many drivers couldn’t identify the road signs we showed them, despite many believing they had a good understanding of the meaning of most signs.

We showed our survey respondents a number of UK road signs and ask them to identify the sign's meaning. The least known road sign was for 'End of minimum speed limit' with nearly 8 out of every 10 incorrectly guessing the meaning of the sign and half believing the sign to mean the end of a maximum speed limit zone. Another sign that confused many of the people we asked was for ‘All Vehicles Prohibited except bicycles being pushed by pedestrians’. Only 25% knew the meaning, perhaps due to the limited information and lack of pictograms that the sign provides.

Road sign meanings

Our survey found the public were no better at identifying road markings than they were the signs with an even greater level on confusion over some of the most common markings. As many as 9 out of 10 respondents did not know the marking for 'Hazard Ahead' – surprising considering the important warning the sign is giving. A further 46% were unaware of the road marking for 'Give Way'.

Road marking meanings

Not understanding or being confused by the exact meaning of a road sign or marking could easily lead to unintended consequences and breaking the Highway Code. In fact, based on our research, 2 in 5 Brits have made mistakes as a result of misinterpreting road signs including unintentionally breaking the speed limit (16%), having to brake suddenly as a warning sign was misinterpreted (15%) and slowing down as a precaution, causing a build up of traffic (9%). 

Road Signs - The Basics

There are literally hundreds of different road signs each with their own message and meaning, however, most signs can be classified into one of three categories based on their shape.

Road sign shape meanings

Back to School?

With so much confusion over road signs, does this beg the question that drivers should have to retake their driving test at regular intervals or, at the very least, resit their theory test? For many, the theory test did not even exist when they learnt to drive and so their knowledge of UK road signs and the Highway Code has never really been tested.  Two thirds of our survey participants agreed believing that drivers should retake their driving theory and hazard perception tests regularly with most citing every 15 years as being the most appropriate interval in order to refresh the memory and stay safe (not to mention legal!) on the road.

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