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Do you know your road signs?

Road signs are integral to the Highway Code and help keep us safe. Not following them could cause an accident or near-miss. Should this happen, you might need to make a claim on your car insurance.

Not knowing the latest updates to the Highway Code could be dangerous. But would you pass your driving theory test if you took it today? We quizzed UK drivers to see how good their road sign recognition really is.

Dead end - access only road sign

In the late 1950s, London designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert were tasked with improving the British road and motorway signage system. Their road signs were first used on the Preston bypass in 1958 and following it's success, the pair continued improving the UK’s road signs. This project took years to roll out, but by 1965, the new road signage system became part of UK driving law.

By the 1980s an improved colour-coding system was introduced as part of the project, which aimed to reduce visual ‘clutter’ for drivers on the road. This design is what UK motorists will recognise on roads and motorways today.

Kinneir and Calvert’s ground-breaking work was described as “one of the most ambitious and effective information design projects ever executed in Britain”. With just 3 different sign shapes and 5 different colours used in the UK, they might not seem that hard to remember. But with over 700 different variations listed in the Highway Code, there’s a lot to be aware of.

A new study of 2,000 UK drivers reveals that more than 3 in 5 (63%) admit to being confused by road signs in the past. But when put to the test, how many road signs did they get wrong? You might be surprised…

 

1. Is this one going to make your head explode?

Road sign quiz question showing No vehicles carrying explosives sign

Our latest research found that more than half (52%) of UK drivers don’t know what this sign means. More than 3 in 10 (31%) drivers thought this sign meant, ‘No vehicles carrying flammable gas permitted’.

This sign actually means, ‘No vehicles carrying explosives’ but it’s probably not a road sign that most UK drivers will come across. That’s because it’s usually placed in areas where explosives could be moved, such as in military training grounds.

Our research found that male drivers were most likely to get this right. More than 1 in 5 (22%) selected the right answer, compared to just over 1 in 8 (13%) female drivers.

 

2. Have you crossed paths with this sign before?

Road sign quiz question showing Level crossing with barrier or gate ahead sign

This road sign is likely more common on UK roads, which is probably why more than 6 in 10 (61%) drivers in our survey chose the correct answer.

This sign means ‘Level crossing with barrier or gate ahead’. Its triangular shape warns drivers that they’re approaching a crossing. This road sign is usually found in areas where trains may be passing but can also be used for tramways.

In our research, more than 1 in 10 (12%) drivers thought this sign meant, ‘Cattle crossing with barrier or gate ahead’. Data also revealed that drivers in London are most likely to be confused by this sign. More than half (55%) of motorists in the capital got it wrong.

When approaching a level crossing, it’s important to be prepared for the barriers to drop. Knowing the meaning of your signs should help you take appropriate action in plenty of time.

 

3. This one might get you stuck

Road sign quiz question showing Risk of grounding sign

Our latest data reveals that 2 thirds (66%) of UK motorists don’t know what this road sign means.

This sign, meaning ‘Risk of grounding’, is designed for use at level crossings and bridges that have high elevation from the road surface. If the crossing is particularly high, lorries and larger vehicles could find themselves stuck, creating a hazard.

Of those who got the answer wrong, nearly half (48%) guessed that this sign meant, ‘Uneven surface for large vehicles’.

 

4. Drivers can’t walk the walk with this sign

Road sign quiz question showing No pedestrians sign

Almost 4 in 5 (74%) UK drivers don’t know that this circular sign prohibits pedestrians. In fact, more than a third (34%) of motorists believe this sign actually means, ‘Pedestrians crossing’. If this were true, the sign would be triangular rather than round.

The ‘No pedestrians’ road sign means just that. It tells all road users that pedestrians can’t walk in the area. It’s most commonly seen around underpasses or flyovers, where high speed is a factor.

The danger of not knowing this road sign could result in pedestrians entering prohibited zones. If they do walk in restricted areas, they could put themselves at great risk. That’s why it’s important to brush up on your Highway Code and know your road signs. Failing to do so might endanger yourself and others.

 

5. Did you narrowly miss this one?

Road sign quiz question showing Road narrows on right sign

This sign, ‘Road narrows on right’ is a common sight on UK roads, especially around areas of construction. This was telling in our research, as more than 2 in 3 (65%) UK drivers guessed this road sign correctly.

This road sign is used to indicate where roadworks are changing the normal flow of traffic. Normally placed between the ‘Roadworks ahead’ sign and the start of the construction, it helps drivers navigate a temporary route through roadworks.

Those aged between 25 and 34 were most likely to be stumped by this sign, as more than 3 in 5 (63%) drivers got this road sign wrong. However, more than 8 in 10 (86%) drivers 64 or over got this answer right.

 

6. A sign that could drive you around the bend

Road sign quiz question showing Double bend first to left sign

Nearly half (49%) of UK drivers got this road sign correct, but a third (33%) incorrectly believed this sign meant a single bend in the road.

This sign, ‘Double bend first to left’ actually warns road users that they’re driving towards multiple bends, with the first being to the left. When you see this sign, you should reduce your speed so that you can safely pass around the bend you’re approaching.

 

7. Motorists don’t have this sign down to a tee

Road sign quiz question showing T junction with priority over vehicles from the right sign

According to our research, more than half (53%) of UK motorists got this road sign wrong.

This type of T-junction shows who has priority through the broader line. In this case, priority is over vehicles from the right. However, as a triangular warning sign, it tells drivers to be alert of any other vehicles that may be approaching.

 

8. Most drivers were heading in the right direction here

Road sign quiz question showing Two-way traffic sign

Data shows that the majority of UK motorists know this sign well, with more than 7 in 10 (75%) drivers answering correctly.

These 2-way traffic signs are usually situated on or just before 2-way roads. These road signs warn drivers that they're leaving a 1-way system and entering a road with traffic coming in the opposite direction.

Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) drivers aged 64 and over the right answer. However, less than 3 in 5 (58%) motorists aged between 18 and 24 got this road sign correct. It’s important to know when you’re approaching a 2-way traffic area, so you don’t emerge into the path of oncoming vehicles.

 

9. Drivers were on track with this sign

Road sign quiz question showing Level crossing without barrier sign

Over half (56%) of drivers in our survey knew this sign meant ‘Level crossing without barrier’. However, more than 1 in 7 (16%) believe this sign informs motorists that there’s a train station nearby.

When approaching a level crossing without a barrier, it’s important to stop and check for trains before you cross. In some cases, you may need to use a railway telephone to contact the signal operator before crossing.

Since 2009, to improve safety at crossings without barriers, Network Rail has installed barriers at 66 different open crossings across the country(3).

When it comes to age, it seems that young drivers may need a refresh of their Highway Code. That’s because only a quarter (26%) of motorists aged 18 to 24 knew what this road sign meant.

 

10. Does the meaning of this sign blow your mind?

Road sign quiz question showing Side winds likely ahead sign

More than 3 in 5 (61%) motorists knew this road sign meant ‘Side winds likely ahead’ . However, around 1 in 5 (21%) thought it meant, ‘Airfield ahead’.

This sign is used in areas where strong winds are common and could make driving hazardous. You would expect to see a sign like this at high altitudes, near the coast and on bridges.

Young drivers aged 18 to 24 are most likely to be confused by this sign, with only a quarter (25%) getting it right. Drivers aged 55 and over were more confident, with more than 7 in 10 (71%) knowing the meaning of this road sign.

 

11. This one isn’t a walk in the park

Road sign quiz question showing Country Park sign

We’re lucky in the UK to have lots of green spaces and nature. In England, there are 30 accredited country parks(4), with the highest proportion in the West Midlands. In Wales, there are 9 country parks(5), while Northern Ireland has 7(6). You could argue the Scots have it best, with 40 beautiful country parks ready to explore(8).

Despite the vast amounts of greenery in the UK, less than half (49%) of British drivers know that this sign means ‘Country Park’.

 

12. Does this sign change your point of view?

Road sign quiz question showing Scenic viewpoint sign

Less than half (45%) of UK drivers know that this road sign means ‘Scenic viewpoint’.

This sign is used as a direction, showing UK motorists where to find some of the best viewpoints in the country. If you’re ever on the road and see this sign on your travels, it might be worth taking a quick detour.

 

How do I make sense of road signs?

Making sense of road signs can be difficult, especially if it’s a while since you passed your driving theory test. In the UK, road signs are generally 3 shapes: circular, triangular or rectangular.

Circular road signs are there to give orders or instructions. Blue bordered circular signs provide an instruction. Red borders instruct you not to do something.

Triangular road signs are warning signs. Generally, they have a red border and they tell you to keep a lookout. This could be for sharp bends or even ducks!

Rectangular road signs provide you with directions or information. Except for on motorways, blue rectangles give information. On motorways, blue signs provide drivers with directions. On primary roads, direction signs are green rectangles – changing to white on minor roads.

Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at Confused.com comments:

“With over 700 road signs on UK roads, it’s no surprise that some drivers find some of them confusing. But road signs are there to be followed and not knowing what they mean could put road users at risk.

“If you misunderstand a road sign, you could cause an accident or near-miss. This might result in you having to make a claim through your car insurance. If you’re ever unsure of a road sign’s meaning, it’s worth remembering the 3 basic shapes and how they communicate to motorists for different reasons.

“If you spot any road signs that you're unsure of, the latest version of the Highway Code can help. By taking the time to understand confusing road signs, drivers can feel more confident and know what action to take when driving towards them in future.”

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