While instructing on an advanced driving course recently in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, I briefly found it funny when I saw this sign but after a few moments of humor I was more dismayed than amused. Read on and you’ll find out why.
Sixty-nine years ago, back in 1949, the United Nations drew up a ‘Protocol on Road Signs and Signals.’ Goals of the protocol included uniformity of all road signs, signals and surface markings around the world, to make it easier for foreign visitors to understand traffic signs wherever they happened to be driving. In the same context there has always been a push for sign makers to use images rather than text on road signs, so that it is even easier to understand the signs.
Many countries have followed the protocol but sadly — and one could also say tragically — America has never fully done so. Indeed, when I travel around the USA to instruct in both defensive and advanced driving, I have repeatedly seen and photographed many examples of how American states frequently don’t even comply with national standardization guidelines from the USDOT and FHWA — a document by the title of the “Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices,” (or equally cumbersome acronym of “MUTCD”).
On an international level, this is why in many countries you will see a predominance of images rather than text on most road signs but in the USA one sees far too many textual road signs that easily could utilize images but don’t, and which are therefore understandable only to people who can quickly and easily read in English. This is a situation which clearly can cause unnecessary danger.
Some textual signs are almost certainly unavoidable in any country but keeping them to a minimum — both in number and in length — should always remain a serious goal.
It would be no excuse to bring cost into the issue. It no doubt did cost a lot of money in all countries but I don’t think there will be many, if any, road signs still in use in the USA that were installed before 1950. In that time the vast majority of signs could progressively have been replaced with image-based, globally-conforming designs.
In traffic safety, every bit of wise policy helps!
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