Pre-worboys signs

Prior to the publication of the Worboys Report in 1963, traffic signs were distinctly ‘olde-worlde’. They are, legally, supposed to be extinct – but many survive.

You may or may not know about signs prior to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1964. It took until 1957 for the first TSRGD to be published, prior to which signs were not really regulated at all. There had been a lengthy report in 1944 that tried to provide some standardisation but this was not legally binding upon local authorities.

By 1957, it had been codified that most signs had prescribed sizes, colours, and illumination requirements. However, this caused a huge problem with the new motorways that were about to open as these signs were just woefully inadequate for high speed roads.

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These signs were eventually, after much research and debate, phased out in 1964. Out went the black and white striped posts, the old MOT typeface, and reflective studs on symbols.

The new signs were heralded as the future, and they worked; they still remain with us today with some modifications here and there.

But, despite the repeat warnings from the DfT to remove every last example of the old type of sign, many still remain.  There are a number of reasons;

  • Cost – it’s not seen as a good use of funds to take them down even if mandated to do so by the DfT.
  • Visual amenity – replacing a pre-Worboys sign means you have to put back a compliant new sign. This may actually look ugly in a quaint rural setting.
  • The person in charge of signs likes them – this is a reason! Some engineers like having these relics of days gone by on lower speed roads, the view being if they still do the job removing them seems counter-productive. It’s a risky strategy but it pleases the traditionalists in village associations and the press.
  • Not being aware it even exists – there are hundreds of thousands of signs on the network, and even the most geeky and obsessive signs engineer won’t know the precise location of them all.

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The DfT had originally sent out a huge list of signs which had to be removed by the end of January 2005. Much of this list contained drawings from the 1957 TSRGD, with a very select few 1964, 75, and 81 diagrams thrown in as well. There was never any proactive enforcement of this so local authorities carried on as normal.

In a way this reprieve has yielded fruit. Despite no longer being prescribed, some authorities are now actively maintaining and repairing such signs. The coming of the 2016 TSRGD now allows virtually any kind of rural ‘fingerpost’ design to be used on unclassified roads which effectively saves the  vast numbers of pre-1964 fingerposts that remain. Strictly speaking it does not protect direction, regulatory, or warning signs, but I dare say that with an appropriate safety case (and perhaps a direction from the Department, if they are willing), the survival of such signs may not be the end of the world. I certainly hope so, provided the location is appropriate.

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What is essential though, is that where designers are using their own initiative to replicate rural fingerposts in accordance with the new flexibility of the TSRGD, they remember the basics of traffic sign design. They still need to be legible and in a typeface that even at slow speeds can be read. I shall provide some sketches of how you may hope to achieve this in a future article.

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