Obscure Road Signs

3 min read
Way-finding and other types of road signs should be functional and help drivers make quick decisions instead of overloading their senses. Poorly positioned and poorly designed signs can confuse drivers and leave them in precarious situations.

The accurate understanding of traffic signs is somewhat underrated in the grand scheme of road safety. Urban environments, like the one in Singapore, are constantly evolving and changing, thus way-finding and other kinds of road signs are there to help drivers navigate effectively and safely on the roads. Signs that are poorly designed or placed in less than ideal locations tend to confuse, rather than help, the driver.

The design and placement of these signs should limit the road user’s choices and serve up only the most relevant information. Drivers have only a few seconds to see, interpret and react to that information. That small window of opportunity each motorist has to make sense of the signs would end up wasted if the driver cannot make a clear decision because he or she was confused by the road signs.

Understanding what a sign or road marking stands for is of the utmost importance — what’s the use of a sign that leaves everyone scratching their heads? Some newer implemented road signs and road markings have even sparked online forums on what they signify or mean. For instance, that ‘V’ with two dots painted on the road — what does it mean? There’s a high chance most motorists won’t know that that’s a PCAM, or a “Pedestrian Cross Ahead Marking”. It’s supposed to give approaching motorists prior warning that there’s a zebra crossing ahead.

If you see this sign painted on the road, it means “zebra crossing ahead”.

Sometimes the signs are so subtle that it makes it almost impossible to tell which is which. Many drivers about to drive pass a bus bay may not be aware of the difference between the two signs shown below. If they were to slow down and scrutinise these signs, they may just see that additional triangle pointing downwards in the left sign. So what is the difference between the two signs? As it turns out, the additional triangle means it is mandatory to give way to a bus exiting the bus bay; without that triangle, drivers are only advised to give way.

The additional small triangle (left) means drivers must give way to buses exiting the bus bay.
The additional small triangle (left) means drivers must give way to buses exiting the bus bay.

Signs that are poorly positioned or are obstructed should be rectified. There is no merit in having them there if they do not serve their purpose. Some netizens have complained that overgrown trees are obstructing road signs so much so that only on closer inspection can motorists figure out what they are. Some directional signs are situated too near to the exits of major roads or junction turns, well past decision-making points, which end up confusing drivers as to which path to take until they are close to the actual turning junction.

Motorists negotiating detour routes due to roadworks will benefit greatly if the temporary way-finding signs are clearly indicated and located well before the actual worksite so that drivers have the option to re-route or stay clear of the obstructed lanes or area way beforehand.

Tree blocking road sign

Road signs should be kept as simple, universal and straightforward as possible to reach out to the vast majority. With our driving experiences already inundated with information from our mobile phones to our smart cars, we don’t need road signs to confuse us further.

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