Pointing the way forward: the future of road signs

Men at Work road sign photo

Pointing the way forward: the future of road signs

There are those (chiefly manufacturers of GPS and satnav systems!) who have postulated the idea that eventually road signage will become obsolete, believing that in the not too distant future we could become totally reliant on safety and warning signs being delivered totally electronically within our vehicles or on personal mobile devices.

A world devoid of traditional physical signs on the road or elsewhere is probably a pipe dream though, for many reasons.

Just take a drive to your local supermarket and note how many signs you are required to take cognisance of. A pointer to access the store you are seeking, then a warning that you are in a speed restricted zone; next you note that the entrance road is one-way only. You’re about to park when you see the sign indicating it’s a disabled bay. All this in a matter of a seconds and a couple of dozen yards, not forgetting the temporary yellow triangle which advises you that there is construction work going on.

There may well already be devices that are able to beep, flash, graphically display or even vocalise all these warnings within a car or on a mobile, but it’s difficult to believe they can deliver it all in the same instant that your eyes and brain can absorb it from the material signs. Plus, if there is even one small glitch in the system you could well miss one or more of those unsigned hazards and cause an accident.

If there IS an accident, a world relying totally on automated warning systems would also raise legal issues. No-one, for example, could easily deny that a safety or warning sign was there before the incident, but if the only warning was delivered electronically it would be easy to argue that for some reason it was not conveyed or not programmed in to the relevant database.

Fundamentally, though, it is the human factor that counts – behind the wheel and everywhere else we like to be in control of our own safety, relying on our senses rather than giving our destiny completely over to technology.

Men at Work road sign photo

IMG_2508 by tompagenet licensed under Creative commons 5