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OVERGROWN ROADS: Plants hiding road signs providing growing hazard for drivers on UK roads

Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)

New research from the RAC has revealed a significant issue for UK motorists: the widespread obscuration of road signs by overgrown foliage. A staggering 74% of drivers report that speed limit signs are the most commonly hidden, with 30mph signs being particularly affected. These signs are crucial for controlling speed in villages and street-lit areas, making their visibility paramount for safety.

With the lush growth of spring and summer, more than half (53%) of drivers encounter obscured signs regularly, while 39% find it occasionally challenging to see them. Only 8% of drivers believe that obscured signs are not a problem in their area.

The implications of these findings are concerning. Over 40% of motorists who noticed obscured signage reported that it led to them unintentionally exceeding the speed limit. A quarter admitted to missing vital information that could impact their safety or that of others. Alarmingly, 28% missed a turn, and 8% ended up driving in the wrong direction due to hidden signs.

‘Red circle’ signs, which mandate specific actions for drivers, are most often concealed by unchecked vegetation. More than half (52%) of drivers found 30mph signs hardest to see, with 40mph and 20mph signs also frequently obscured. Additionally, two-thirds of drivers struggled to spot directional signs or those indicating upcoming motorway junctions, while 42% had difficulty with ‘red triangle’ warning signs and 35% with ‘give way’ signs.

A crucial finding from the RAC’s study is that 92% of drivers only realised signs were obscured as they passed them, often too late to respond safely. Nearly a fifth (18%) only noticed an obscured sign after seeing a speed limit repeater, which can be up to 450 metres from the initial sign. This suggests many drivers might be unknowingly speeding because of hidden signage.

The impact of unkempt vegetation extends beyond sign visibility. It creates significant hazards for drivers at junctions and roundabouts, with 81% of those surveyed stating that excessive foliage made it challenging to pull out safely. Over half (58%) of drivers believe that foliage should be managed better to avoid compromising road safety, and 28% expect regular maintenance given the amount they pay in council tax. However, 9% acknowledge budget constraints, while only 3% don’t view obscured signs as problematic.

Rural roads are particularly affected, with 48% of respondents indicating that signs are most overgrown there, compared to just 9% on urban roads. A further 43% noted that signs are equally difficult to see on both types of roads.

This study highlights the critical need for better management of roadside vegetation to ensure the safety of all road users. Without action, the risks posed by obscured signs will continue to endanger motorists across the UK.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “In parks and gardens foliage is a welcome sign of spring, but on the roads it’s an entirely different matter if vital information like speed limit changes aren’t visible.

“It’s especially concerning that speed limit signs are often the hardest to detect and drivers are left guessing what the legal limit is before they spot a smaller repeater sign. Any amount of excessive speeding puts everyone on the roads at grave danger, especially on minor and local roads where there’s a greater number of pedestrians.

“Drivers shouldn’t be left to rely on their local knowledge and navigation apps to know if there’s a change in speed limit or if a junction is approaching. And new in-car systems that normally detect road signs and display them on the dashboard are redundant if a sign isn’t visible. Of course, it’s still the motorists’ responsibility to drive at an appropriate speed, whether a road sign is visible or not.

“While we realise local councils are under enormous pressure financially, we nonetheless ask them to inspect all the signs on their networks and do everything in their power to ensure they are clear and visible to drivers, as it’s these signs that can save lives.”


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