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Road signs and the law

Misunderstanding road signs can land you in trouble with the law. And ignorance is no defence, as motor lawyer Jeanette Miller explains.

A pile of confusing road signs

"I didn't know what that sign meant, officer".

"If I'd have known driving the wrong way down that one-way side street at 60 mph was illegal I wouldn't have done it, honestly!"

Hardly a week goes by without my colleagues and me speaking to a motorist about a road sign incident, and the subsequent legal action against them.

And it’s often due to the driver's misunderstanding, not noticing, or simply not knowing what a road sign means.

Think you know your road signs? Test yourself with our quiz.

Dangerous driving prosecution

A simple mistake can lead to anything from a fine to, in some instances, a prosecution for dangerous driving that could also lead to the court considering a prison sentence.

So whether caused by not understanding them or ignoring them, going against what road signs tell you can have dire consequences.

Road signs and awareness surrounding them is an increasingly important part of driving.

But research conducted by the Department for Transport 2013 showed that the number of road signs on UK roads had more than doubled in two decades, from two million to 4.5 million.

The increased signage causes clutter, and many signs are hard to understand, or simply not necessary.

A need to revise road signs

Sign reading sign not in use

Thankfully, the Department for Transport realised it needs to act and has set up a traffic sign reduction force that promises to tackle street clutter and red tape.

The department believes that many of these signs are unnecessary and can cause confusion for drivers, as well as taking up pavement space for pedestrians.

The task force aims to bring about a range of new measures, including:

  • ensuring certain road signs have a 'remove by' date
  • making sure signs are visible on unlit roads
  • reducing the clutter of adverts and distracting logos
  • reducing the overall number of unnecessary and confusing road signs

New driver vigilance

A collection of confusing road signs

In particular, new drivers need to be especially vigilant. If you pick up six penalty points within the first two years of passing your driving test, your licence can be revoked.

That means you’ll have to take your practical and theory tests all over again.

While you obviously need to study and be aware of road signs to pass both tests, clearer and fewer signs and road markings is welcome news - and overdue.

But if you think the UK is in a bad way with its road signs, take a look at some other confusing examples from around the world.

Lawyer and legal blogger Jeanette Miller is managing director at motoring law specialists Geoffrey Miller Solicitors.

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Jeanette Miller

Jeanette Miller

Lawyer and legal blogger Jeanette Miller is managing director of motoring law specialists Geoffrey Miller Solicitors.

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