Senseless signage

We love road signs, don’t we? At Clarity, we are especially attached to one that my old friend and colleague Graham Jones spotted in Lewisham some 20 years ago. It proclaimed PHYSICAL WIDTH RESTRICTOR REINSTATED – words that might have been lost on the average lorry-driver travelling at 30mph. We have used it ever since as an example of writing something without considering the reader and how you expect him to react. ROAD NARROWS, we suspect, would have worked better.

But then, why do people put up road signs anyway? I had always assumed they were put there for the benefit of motorists, to warn or inform them, but maybe I am missing something. I think back to one which has stood for many years in front of a metal barrier beside the northern approach to Chiswick bridge. I think it is still there, proudly declaring BARRIER ERECTED TO PROTECT WEAK VERGE. Why, I have always wondered, do we need a sign as well as a barrier? Was it put there to deter drivers who might be thinking of bouncing off the barrier? Or was it perhaps erected by the barrier-builders themselves just to remind everyone what a great job they had done?

Then last week on the A12, somewhere around Chelmsford, I noticed that a massive new electronic sign was being erected, the type that carries illuminated messages about accidents, traffic jams or fog. The job was not yet complete, so someone had thoughtfully commissioned and installed an only slightly smaller sign, with black writing on a yellow background, declaring SIGN NOT YET IN USE. Does the blindingly obvious need saying? Or am I once again missing something?