Friday, 17 December 2010

Motorway Signs - Nannied while we drive

It's one of the things that annoy me most. Apart from Drayton Parslow. He annoys me most. And John Prescott. He annoys me most as well. And the way Take That turned up singing "Relight my fire" while we were trying to re-start the Eternal Flame this morning. That was really annoying.

But then there's those dot matrix motorway signs. The debris of a political elite that decided they needed the ability to tell us what to do, at all times.

Now don't get me wrong. In theory they're a good thing. If the messages tell you there may be trouble ahead, all well and good. You like to know. If the M1 signs say "Don't short-cut through Dunstable. It won't help", that would be paying for itself big style.

But mostly they just nag you. "Don't drink and drive". "Keep your distance". It's like the politariat hated the relative freedom we enjoy in motor vehicles, and decided to invade them as well. And yet they've gone further. There are some crimes - like speeding, or drink-driving, or smoking in public buildings - that the Government feels the need to tell us not to do. While other crimes - as it might be murder, or arson, or piracy - we never see a sign. When did you last go for a walk in the countryside and see a sign saying "please do not build an unauthorised housing estate in this field?

Yesterday afternoon, while Hnaef was busy checking himself in and out of the Moot House to make himself Mayor, I had reason to visit a small group, the Windmill Hill People of Wokingham. Coming back home up the M40 (I like to cut across from Bicester, for sentimental reasons, and there's roadworks on the M1) we could have done with signs saying "Don't be a prat. Slow down, it's snowing." But no, nothing that useful. Even though all around me people were smacking into the central reservation.  It did strike me that if all they're doing is freelance nagging, rather than more useful information spreading, then they could be making a few quid for the economy by renting them out instead. That stretch of the M40, for example. It could be let to local curate Revd Lesley. Just imagine the effect of coming out of the Ridgeway Cutting at Stokenchurch to see the message "No to the Covenant".

Alternatively the signs could be given over to metaphysical conundrums, such as "Is this a sign?" or "What's driving *you*?"  Or difficult multiplication sums, to keep drivers' brains alert as they're driving through the tediosity of the midlands motorway system. Or almost anything. But not "Stay awake". I know that's the idea. Give me the means to do it, not the general advice. That's all I ask.

Picture of obvious, pointless sign from Daily Telegraph.


  1. LOL - now that is a great idea!

  2. There is a lovely, big, expensive, electronic, solar-powered sign on the A35 (or A31 - I forget) down towards Bournemouth. It has been there for about 8 years but has never been switched on to my knowledge. Now it has a little, cheap, tin & plastic sign attached to its base saying 'Sign not in use'. Yep, we got that.

  3. The signs do serve a purpose. For example:
    1. Visual Message Signs (VMS) can be switched on well in advance of poor weather, so that commuters can be aware that their journey the following day is likely to be affected (or not possible).
    2. Your image looks like the VMS is serving no purpose, but roads freeze well before the air above and although car sensors might be telling drivers temperatures are above zero, roads could be turning icy - in that context "Caution, freezing conditions" could be a life-saving warning.
    3. VMS often have cameras, allowing road engineers to assess if roads are icing, snow is falling, or there is congestion or accidents on the carriageway. So even if the A35 VMS appears to be off, it may still be performing a useful function.

    By the way "Doorkeeper"
    a) how do you know the VMS was "expensive"?
    b) "solar-powered" VMS are usually the little portable ones you see advising drivers to slow down at roadworks, in an often vain attempt to prevent accidents/fatalities.

    Either of you related to Jeremy Clarkson by any chance?


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