And this is bollocks and all

Britain’s road signs could be replaced by warnings used in France and German as part of a plan to develop new technology to cut deaths on roads in Europe.

Traditional no entry and speed signs in Britain could be replaced by standard European signs which could be read by ‘intelligent’ cars that will be able to communicate directly with drivers.

The changes have been proposed to the European Commission and could also involve introducing standard road markings, which campaigners fear could cost taxpayers millions.

Some cars, such as Volvos and Fords, are already capable of reading road signs and the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) said that all EU countries will need to use the same signs for the system to work.

No, not that intelligent signs are necessarily bollocks. Or even a good idea. The idea that they all need to be the same is bollocks.

If you’re going to make a car that is intelligent enough to read the road signs then there would be no problem with having more than one set of signs that it could read.

It’s just that mania for “more Europe” again.

31 comments on “And this is bollocks and all

  1. Must admit, I’m in general in favour of standarising things like this. They’re a State matter, not a product in which market competition matters. Global symbols are likely to be useful as we become more global people; so you don’t need to know a running man in one country and a bouncing iguana in another or whatever.

    The main problem is the tendency for committees to haggle a terrible compromise. The most ludicrous perhaps being replacing the electrical phase colours (were: red, yellow, blue) with, er, brown, black and grey. Not only hard to distinguish in a dirty or baldly lit environment, but black was our old neutral colour. Sigh.

    But standardisation itself is probably a boon. I do find the Americans and their insistence on retaining their foot-furlongs-per-pound stuff amusing.

  2. If anyone thinks standardization is synonymous with Europe, they’ve not worked for a French company. They are the masters at taking an international system or term and dicking with it to make it unique.

  3. Road signs are pretty much standardised across Europe anyway. Only major difference is in not-blighty places it tends to be made more obvious when you are entering (more especially, exiting) a built-up area and should thus adjust your speed accordingly.

  4. In a common market, where lorry drivers can drive from Athens to Ancoats, and holidaymakers can hire scooters in Spain, standardisation is essential. Indeed we already have largely the same signs. A visit to the USA is always a sharp reminder of how much their road signs differ.

  5. Since all continental Europe road signage is far superior to the ill-thought out, badly designed, poorly sited and maintained jumble our own dear old Ministry of Transport and its County Council apparatchiks imposes on us, then roll on the day.

    ‘Intelligent’ cars or no.

    Perhaps, while they are at it, Brussels could also insist that our signs are kept clean and free of obstructions and properly sited.

    For once, the Commission has the right idea.

  6. And in exchange for more deficit spending (Keynesians, rejoice!) we should get a standardised EU language. All this shouting at the locals is making me hoarse.

  7. Does anyone here happen to know why THEY abolished the lovely intuitive signs that forbad actions by putting a diagonal line across a picture of them?

  8. Normally I would agree, but in this case it’s worth reading the original report here (pdf). The bit about road signs is on p8-9.

    It shows how different countries implement “Vienna convention” signs and lists as one proposal “Harmonisation of principal regulatory traffic signs (eg Stop, Give Way, banned turns etc) across Europe in respect of colours, shapes, fonts etc“. It describes the feasibility as “Low in the short term“.

    The three proposals where feasibility is high are (i) making signs out of better materials (ii) proper maintenance and (iii) variable signs that cameras can actually read.

  9. Why would you want a camera to read signs? Wouldn’t you put some sort of wirelessy data chip thingy in them?

  10. Given the challenges involved in keeping a piece of software (since software is involved in this) consistent with one specification, having several specs targeting one functionality sounds like a set of bugs with relatively high chance of fatal outcome waiting to happen.
    Nah, this is good to have one spec for. Several vendors of said software would most certainly be beneficial though. If they are seriously considering something like this, they ought to think of something that works regardless of weather as the primary mode of sign identification and have visual recognition of signs as a fallback when ye olde power supply has failed for some reason.

  11. @GeoffH
    “the ill-thought out, badly designed, poorly sited and maintained jumble our own dear old Ministry of Transport and its County Council apparatchiks imposes on us, ”
    Oh, amen to that. There’s one particular junction you hit approaching Central London, on a 40mph limit road. There’s a total of 15 signs distributed either side & on the far-side, plus traffic lights. One of them is a 30 limit sign. You’ll be reminded of that by the camera half a mile down the road.
    Be interesting to hear. i regularly drive in 6 European countries. I’d say the UK route directions are the easiest to get lost with. Usually because the ‘direction to’ signs you’ve been following, abruptly disappear. Any comment?

  12. A sensible ‘stop’ sign harmonised across Europe would be an arm raised at about 60 degrees in front of the body. May be an issue in Germany, but do they want to be in Europe or not?

  13. @IanB,

    Camera reading the rather minor variations in signs has to be the cheapest option. Even though these things are mass-produced in the millions, because it is governments buying them they cost upwards of €100 each. The cost of either replacing or chipping every road sign in the continent would bankrupt us all over again. Which means one of those two options will be selected.

  14. @bis, Germans also complain about “Schilderwald” (forest of road signs). I don’t find the direction signs particularly easy to follow, and it’s a major problem that no signs are illuminated.

    One good thing here that prevents the situation you describe is that only signs on the right have legal effect (the exception being the crossed-through town name, which is shown on the left because it’s put on the back of the one saying the name of the town you are entering), which has the effect of raising the speed limit (usually from 50 to 100).

    The most fun thing about Germany ist hat the speeding fines are proportionate. Up to 5km/h above is usually overlooked, up to 20 km/h (they knock 3 off the reading) gets you a fine in the €15 to €25 bracket, with no points.

    So you just accept a few speeding tickets a year as a cost of motoring. No draconian fines, points, increased insurance premia and being sent to re-education camps.

  15. A car that is intelligent enough to read the road signs is not sufficient. We need the cars (especially future driverless ones) to be intelligent enough to cope appropriately when the signs are missing, damaged, vandalised (e.g. the “30” speed limit sign that has been changed to be “80”), turned to face in the wrong direction, upside down, etc. They also need to cope with the transition from signs in mph to those in km/hr on the same road.

    [1] I said “so called driverless ones” because if it were up to me, I’d insist on a human at the controls at all times, ready to take over if required, and criminally liable to the same extent as drivers today. I’d also insist that the safe functioning of a driverless car should not depend in any way on off-board sources of info, like GPS, cell-towers

  16. JamesV-

    But wouldn’t the cost of inspecting/upgrading every sign to be machine readable be much the same?

  17. Oops. I thought I’d deleted my initial draft of a rant about driverless cars as it is off-topic, but obviously I didn’t, sorry.

  18. @JamesV – while computer vision has made impressive progress, I can see it fail when you have snow/sleet falling. The amount of noise in the image will be impressive. Speaking of snow, when you do have daylight (or maybe just an idiot to the rear who doesn’t know how to turn off his high-beam) and snow, you would have to have some very good cameras to filter out all the glare.

    Computer vision should be the secondary, not the primary.

  19. @geoffh. I disgree that british signage is all that crap. Here in Italia is much worse and having lived and driven in at least 6 different european countries i feel well qualified to hold an opinion.

  20. @bis

    Ireland is the worst. There are plenty of signs pointing to Dublin.. irrespective of whether the roads go there. Anything else and you’re in the lap of the Celtic gods.

    One nice thing they do, mind, is have signs pointing out that you can’t drive your horse and cart on their new motorways. I think we should have those everywhere.

  21. I like having motorway exit numbers matching the distance, e.g. exit 130 is 130km from wherever arbitrary point the road starts.

    Also – unlikely to actually happen – but does anyone think that the usual mission creep will extend to suggesting the UK switch to driving on the right?

  22. No government will introduce driving on the right, it would be carnage (as well as incredibly expensive to rebuild and redesign road junctions) and they would rightly be held responsible for the deaths and injuries.

  23. The biggest maker of temporary road signs here is a firm called Crapie. Don’t know if they have much of an export business in UK though.

  24. @Cuffleyburgers

    Only 6?

    As I hold both an Austrian (pre EU entry) and UK driving licence I also feel qualified to comment.

    Whatever you may feel about Italian road signage, the UK’s is both unhelpful and a contribution to danger on our roads.

    There is nothing here to match the French system in towns of ‘Toutes Directions’ and ‘Autres Directions’ which are both succinct and always accurate.

  25. Good lord, the UK signage, particularly at complex roundabouts, is information overload! Two complex direction signs one right behind the other, with about 3 seconds to interpret both, work out that you are in fact in the wrong lane cos the signs are too close to the roundabout, and rely on the fact you’re driving foreign plates to give you a bit of leeway as you careen across 3 lanes of traffic…

    However, whichever person invented the Continental traffic-from-the-right-has-priority-unless-there-are-sharksteeth-or-one-of-those-inexplicable-yellow-diamonds thing deserves a good slapping.

  26. “There is nothing here to match the French system in towns of ‘Toutes Directions’ and ‘Autres Directions’
    I was thinking of exactly that when dissing the UK route directions, above. Also the display of the place name (crossed out on the reverse) lets you know when arriving. So many UK signs will direct you towards a place but not give a clue whether you’ve reached it.* Often discovered several miles later, by seeing a sign pointing in the opposite direction.
    For paucity of route directions, Romania has to take the biscuit. Possibly due to the Roma stealing them, like everything else left unattended.

  27. “However, whichever person invented the Continental traffic-from-the-right-has-priority-unless-there-are-sharksteeth-or-one-of-those-inexplicable-yellow-diamonds thing deserves a good slapping.”
    Used to think that until i realised out French town never has those lengthy traffic jams at minor T-junctions & the speed of the traffic is more naturally controlled without cameras every few yards. It’s really courtesy made mandatory.
    Holland has been going over to uncontrolled junctions & Belgium seems to be following. Which does rather knock this idea of ‘intelligent’ cars reading road signs sharply on the central processing unit. There aren’t any to read.

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