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Should road signs be identical in the whole EU?

Added 8 November 2016 by

Identical road signs

The European Union is working at unifying as many aspects of member countries’ laws as possible to facilitate cooperation between them. Traffic regulations are not an exception here; it has recently been proposed that identical road signs be implemented in the whole EU. Let us discuss the benefits and drawbacks of this proposal here.

Identical road signs anywhere in the EU – benefits

1. Easier driving for anybody travelling across the continent

Road signs used in European countries are different indeed, both when it comes to the images, colours, and messages they contain (these tend to be written in the official language of every country). The differences can really be striking; for example, Irish warning signs are in diamond shape whereas the Polish ones are triangular. When a foreigner comes to Poland, they may consider our “give way” sign to be temporary if temporary signs are yellow and orange in their country.

There are a number of differences between signs used in European countries in terms of the images (of a car, tunnel, train, or pedestrian) used, the shapes of arrows and types of fonts. Motorway signs have white letters on blue or green background. This is just a fraction of all the differences but even the few examples are enough to show that the system is far less unified than we would like to think. This may make drivers disoriented and more likely to cause an accident.

2. Possible decrease of the so-called “inflation” of road signs

If road sign system was unified in the whole EU, we might have much less signs per kilometre in Poland; on city roads we now have from 40 to as many as 80 signs per km! At the speed of 50 km/h you will drive past them within a minute; it is not physically possible to even read them all in such short a time, not to mention that even if you did, you would have no time to monitor the road itself. In our country, a road sign is often a convenient alternative to repairs; why spend a ton of money on rebuilding the street if you can use a warning sign instead? When a new speed limit is proposed, it is virtually guaranteed the proposal will be accepted, too. It also happens that temporary road signs placed on the road during repairs are not removed when the works are finished. This all teaches Polish drivers to not pay equal attention to all signs they see on the road.

3. Better visibility of new signs

According to the recent research, a road sign remains by the road for 11 to 17 years before it is replaced; this is more than enough for the paint to become less reflective or even difficult to read. The Polish Supreme Audit Office confirms this. If all signs were replaced, their visibility would be much better.

Identical road signs anywhere in the EU – drawbacks

1. Huge cost

A new road sign often costs more than a 1000 PLN. Even if, as we have mentioned, we would only need to replace every second sign and just get rid of the rest, this would still cost 20–40,000 PLN per km. This is certainly more than an average municipality can afford.

2. Chaos

In the long run, implementation of a unified road sign system throughout the whole EU will definitely help drivers keep themselves and everyone else on the road safer. At the same time, though, they will need to get used to the new signs and this may be difficult taking how long they will have been driving in the current system. The same change which would be helpful for international drivers may become troublesome for the local ones who would need to change their driving habits after a unified system is implemented.

3. What are the true intentions behind the petition to unify road signs in the whole EU?

While EU officials claim they are mostly concerned with driving safety, it is easy to guess who will benefit most if a unified road sign system is implemented. Not only will sign manufacturers make a fortune but it will also be much easier for vehicle manufacturers to develop the V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) systems which allow the cars to communicate with the road infrastructure. European taxpayers will simply need to pay so that the business can make money. Will safety increase, though? This is by no means guaranteed. Perhaps instead of changing the signs we should do what the western European towns are doing: get rid of most the signs and only leave the standard 50 km/h speed limits, priority to the right and roundabouts where it’s busiest? This will surely be safer and much cheaper.

It is clear that there are just as many benefits to the proposal to unify the road signs in the whole EU as there are drawbacks. It seems that this idea will not be brought to life too soon since it is incredibly costly. Some countries, especially those developing ones, will be reluctant to pay billions only to change their road signs.

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