As part of the wider flexibility and moving on from site specific approvals, the DfT have abandoned the requirement for new Stop signs. The justification is that all locations that warrant such signs already have them so there should be very few exceptional circumstances where a new Stop sign should be necessary.
On paper, such a sudden relaxation could be horrific. Engineers can undoubtedly point to a local safety scheme on their patch that was subject to political interference from a well meaning but misguided member resulting in pressure to do things that may not be correct in terms of the Regulations or Traffic Signs Manual.
I have personally refused at least three requests for Stop signs in my career. The locations in question did not meet any of the visibility criteria to submit a DfT approval form. Remember that the preferred approach is to improve visibility where practicable. If a hedge or fence is the issue, then typically the highway authority should be able to exercise powers under the Highways Act 1980 to get them removed one way or another.
My justification for refusal was simple; officer time spent pursuing what was invariably likely to be a dead end did not represent a good use of public funds. Likewise, it was contrary to good and accepted practice to install Stop signs at locations that did not warrant them and would devalue the signs where they are needed. Politicians are, however, interested in solutions, not what they feel to be obstructive inconveniences.
I would often promote alternatives, for instance re-profiling existing road markings to bring forward the side road visibility to negate the need for a Stop sign.
Sometimes the political situation rapidly changes; one such scheme I started the ball rolling on was a skewed crossroads where one arm was controlled by a Stop sign, the other being a conventional Give Way. Stats19 data did not even put the junction into the sites for concern list, but after a vehicle was bumped onto its roof after a failure to give way collision whilst a public meeting was taking place about the ‘dangerous’ junction, that sealed the case for action.
So, the junction has been replaced with a double mini roundabout. The sales pitch was a big ask; as the initial request for another Stop sign to replace the Give Way. Given that local concerns included high approach speeds, ‘read-through’ where drivers failed to observe the Give Way sign, and obstructive parking around the crossroads making crossing the road difficult, we eventually convinced sceptical locals and members that this proposal was the way forward.
This approach used to form the main route through this crossroads; by re-profiling the kerbs it is now no longer possible to travel through at high speeds, which enabled the removal of a Stop sign on the side road.
The scheme cost £75,000 but has been well received since completion as an environmental improvement as well as a rare proactive safety scheme (note; there was a spare pot of funding allocated this scheme). It was an example of re-profiling a road to improve visibility (in this case by relocation of give way lines and vastly reducing through speeds through deflection) in order to eliminate the need for Stop signs.
With the requirement for DfT approval now rescinded, there is a genuine risk that local authorities which are strapped for cash will simply erect a Stop sign to satisfy a local concern. This is, ultimately, going to prove to be poor practice and possibly undermine numerous advances in road safety over the previous few years.
However, it is not all gloom and doom. The use of Stop signs at tramway crossings is now much easier (and is indeed recommended).
This particular Stop sign installation replaced a conventional arrangement, the new signs here have LEDs which illuminate the legend “STOP” as well as the octagonal border. As a tramway falls under the remit of the Railway Inspectorate, they can request unorthodox solutions such as this.
It also makes it possible to introduce Stop signs where cycle tracks cross a road and are granted priority. This would be lower cost than a full blown signalised arrangement where traffic flows would not warrant it.
As always, this new flexibility has been introduced with the hope that those using them are fully versed in sign design and the finer parts of the implementation of signs. The new Chapter 3 is intended to assist those who might not be but the crucial issue is that engineering judgement must now be used and this needs to be free from overt external interference. Provided that decisions taken are appropriately recorded and design files are kept up to date, there is no reason that such signs will remain to be used sparingly and that their meaning will not be devalued.