Posted in Travel

Do Traffic Signs Drive You To Distraction?

Old-fashioned road sign from Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
Road signs from the early days of motoring had so much more charm

The 380-mile drive home in our camper van from Stirling, Scotland, does nothing  to diminish my aversion to electronic motorway message boards. These huge signs have popped up alongside many British motorways lately. They must be costing the Ministry of Transport a fortune, as well as causing chaos through necessary lane closures and traffic disruption.

You know the sort I mean: ominous big black boards displaying a grid of light bulbs, selectively  illuminated to spell out the message of the moment. They’re sinister, unattractive and dull, a far cry from the carefully designed road signs from the early days of motoring. Those had a real charm about them; it must have been a pleasure to observe them and obey. Their messages were much more considered too. They had to be, given the long hours required to construct a sturdy metal sign.

Old fashioned road sign frequently seen in the Scottish Highlands
For ships in the night

I suppose I should be grateful that modern technology makes it possible for today’s driver to receive up-to-the-minute motoring news. But I seldom see any useful messages on these boards. The first one we pass today is a case in point: “Please drive safely.” Oh, and there was I planning to slalom all the way to Gretna with my eyes closed!

And, Ministry of Transport, please note: it doesn’t calm any driver’s road rage to be told “Queues Ahead” when you’re already stuck in the middle of one.

But as the nation has invested in these message boards, I suppose we must make the best of them. To this end, I’d like to suggest some more  constructive uses:

  • To convey calming, philosophical thoughts at times of peak traffic, such as rush hour: “This too will pass” or   “There’s a cup of tea/glass of wine/cold beer at home with your name on it”
  • To lift the weary driver’s spirits and take their mind off the traffic: “You’re looking well today”; “You look so much younger than your years”; “That colour really suits you”
  • To divert restless young passengers with travel game ideas: “Let’s play I-Spy!”, “I went to the market and I bought…”, “Who will spot the first yellow car?”; “And now it’s time for a keeping quiet competition!”
  • To answer the children’s repetitive question: “No, we are NOT nearly there yet!”
  • For a more subtle approach, a series of messages on that theme: “We’re nearer than we were the last time you asked” or “Not much further now” or “For every time you ask, it will add five minutes to the journey”

Alternatively, the boards could try to replicate pleasing road signs from the golden age of motoring – or those from other countries that have made you smile. (Any suggestions, anyone?) To end on a more cheerful note, here’s one that we spotted last week in Applecross, in the north west of Scotland. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Road sign seen in Applecross, Scotland, cautioning "Men In Kilts Walking"
You have been warned…

And if that rant wasn’t enough for you, here’s my post from last summer on the same theme:

Rage Against The Road Signs

Or on a lighter note, a mystery solved about French lay-bys:

A Layby By Any Other Name


Author of warm, witty and gently funny fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, beginning with "Best Murder in Show", inspired by her life in an English Cotswold community, short stories and essays about country life. As Commissioning Editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors' Advice Centre, she writes guidebooks authors. She speaks at many literature festivals and writing events, and is part of BBC Radio Gloucestershire's monthly Book Club broadcast. She is founder and director of the free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival which takes place in April, a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, and an ambassador for children's reading charity Read for Good and the Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF.

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