Simon Morgan from the Institute of Highway Engineers examines new local highways traffic sign legislation that comes into force in 2015, which brings both benefits and challenges to local authorities
The new edition of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (TSRGD) is expected to completely replace the existing 2002 version in March 2015, and follows on from six years of policy review and consultation by the Department of Transport (DfT).
Key to the new TSRGD is a focus on local authorities being granted greater flexibility and discretion to implement local signage without the need for frequent individual authorisation of signs by DfT.
Chair of IHE’s Traffic Signs Panel, Simon Morgan looks at the new TSRGD proposals in greater detail and explains the impacts to local authorities.
Mr Morgan said: “The TSRGD revisions are extensive. In addition to providing greater flexibility for local authorities, it will also provide them with greater discretion about the design and placement of traffic signs and whether or not to illuminate them, within a national framework.
“The new TSRGD focuses very much on flexibility and expects authorities to follow guidance in the Traffic Signs Manual to find examples and best practice. This comes with both benefits and challenges to the local authorities.
“Whilst the signage clutter on local roads looks set to reduce following the introduction of the 2015 revision, there are also concerns that local authorities have less certainly over whether the new signs they erect will be enforceable.
“The IHE will continue to work closely with local authorities to ensure they are provided with the best possible training and guidance on the new regulations. We’re keen to help both local authorities and traffic practitioners understand the new TSRGD and what it means to them.
“Our sold-out UK wide, TSRGD seminars which we ran in conjunction with the DfT this spring, were attended by around 1,000 delegates. The IHE is also running its annual Traffic Signs Conference this November to update on the progress of the new TSRGD and the result of the consultation process.”
A ‘building block‘ approach
Mr Morgan said a new feature of the revised TSRGD was its ‘building block‘ approach which prescribes elements for many types of sign, rather than illustrating them individually.
“The building block approach allows much greater flexibility because it allows local authorities to ’mix and match‘ different elements to best suit local needs.
“Through this document, the DfT will prescribe a much wider range of signs for local authorities to use, rather than having to individually authorise many that are currently needed.”
He said it was important to note that only new signs were affected by the new TSRGD. All existing signs and crossings would remain for their expected design life.
“Most signs, with the exception of direction signs, will remain identical or very similar in appearance to present signs. However, there are many important changes within the proposed new TSRGD that make it very different from the existing legislation.”
The proposal for TSRGD 2015
An industry-wide consultation into the new TSRGD proposals closed on June 12. As a result of feedback from leading industry bodies including the IHE, these proposals may be modified. At this stage, the proposed TSRGD changes include how signs are used, with changes expected to be made to the number of signs, whether they are electrically lit and whether they are used with road markings or not.
There will also be an entirely new ‘building block’ format. The new format is due to contain far fewer complete sign illustrations, but more building blocks that can be used in any arrangement to help authorities decide what is appropriate for the local area.
Upright signs and road markings would be independent of each other. Local authorities will need to read guidance and then decide for themselves whether, for example, a parking bay needs an upright sign with it. Additionally, no new Pelican crossings are to be installed, and parking bays will be indicated by almost any type of white marking, colour of road surfacing or block pavers. Except for blue badge (disabled) bays, authorities can make them any size they wish.
Under these proposals, electrical lighting would no longer be mandatory on most signs. The requirement to electrically illuminate most signs has been removed and left to the individual authority’s discretion.
The ‘Guildford Rules’ for directional signs would no longer apply. These rules, which were first introduced in 1994 following extensive experiments in the Guildford area, are to be swept away and these signs returned very close to the pre-1994 situation.
Also, different widths of arm on map-type signs are to be abandoned. This differentiation between routes of different status, which dates back to the Worboys Report of 1963, and the work of the graphic designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert is also to end.
Single and double yellow lines (and school ‘keep clear’ markings) would no longer need a traffic order. Authorities will be able to go out and paint them, but are encouraged to first consult those affected. Certain cycle measures (such as allowing cyclists the ‘wrong way’ down a one-way street) are also exempt from the requirement to make a traffic order.
Most signs for road works and other temporary situations to be illustrated only in guidance documents. The TSRGD will prescribe these by means of a written definition. Also, under the new rules pedestrian crossing regulations and two other minor statutory instruments would be combined and brought together into one document.
Mr Morgan said there were concerns about ending the ‘Guildford Rules’ for directional signage: “We are just coming to the end of a 20-year transition period following the introduction of this type of direction sign in 1994.
“Whilst the ‘Guildford Rules’ are not universally popular, it seems imprudent to abandon them totally without any research or consultation and precipitate a further 20-year period of a mixture of signs following different principals.
“Proposed changes to directional signing could also make signs less clear and potentially unsafe.
“Currently a map-type sign can be used to clearly show the priority route through a junction. In future, this would not be allowed and safety could be compromised and additional warning signs might be needed.
“It’s vital that local authorities are well‑prepared for these changes to the TSRGD, as they are soon to replace practices that have been in place for up to fifty years.”
Benefits and challenges
The introduction of the new 2015 TSRGD is expected to bring cost‑saving benefits to local authorities.
ʺFollowing the introduction of the new edition, we can expect to see less road signage clutter,” Mr Morgan says. “With fewer signs needed, the cost of signage will reduce for local authorities and signage clutter on local roads can be minimised.
“Reduced energy usage is also expected to be another benefit to local authorities now that the requirement to electrically illuminate most signs has been removed and left to the individual authority’s discretion.
It is anticipated that parking enforcement will become less subject to challenge, as the 2015 TSRGD is designed to make it less easy for motorists to get out of parking tickets and moving traffic offences on technical problems with the signs or markings. The changes are also expected to assist local authorities to drive schemes forward by cutting red tape.
“Greater local authority flexibility in determining signage particularly for parking signs and pedestrian zones, also means far fewer signs will require individual authorisation by DfT.
“This will allow local authorities to implement schemes faster and with less staff time.”
Mr Morgan warns that while the new TSRGD gives local authorities greater flexibility and discretion to determine which signs are appropriate to their local area, it must not be done at the risk of driver safety: “It’s important that authorities are not tempted to go for the minimum cost option by reducing signing or lighting, even when drivers need more than one sign or need a sign to be illuminated to be able to see it at night.
“The new 2015 edition will be put in place to assist local authorities and uphold the safety of road users. It’s vital that chief officers and elected members give this due consideration when it comes to reviewing and challenging new signage schemes under this directive.”
There is also the potential that under the new regulations, local authorities could have less certainty over whether the new signs they erect will be enforceable or whether parking adjudicators or magistrates will find some problem with them.
“The revised TSRGD focuses very much on flexibility and expects authorities to follow guidance in the Traffic Signs Manual to find examples and best practice.
“This guidance from the Department for Transport must be published in a timely manner after the new TSRGD comes into force to avoid any uncertainty in traffic signage or enforcement.
“The clearer this guidance, the better able local authorities will be able to resolve any grey areas or issues which may arise when the new legislation is introduced in early 2015.”