Too many and misplaced signposts are the main reason for European motorists getting lost in an unknown environment. Moreover, billboards often block the signs from view and make them difficult to see and read. This is the most important result an Internet survey supported by 14 European automobile clubs revealed.
Between June and July 2008, over 8,000 motorists completed a questionnaire on their national automobile clubs' web sites in Belgium, Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and Spain. The survey was conducted by the Spanish automobile club RACC and aimed at obtaining answers to the questions of how satisfied motorists are with direction signs in Europe and what requirements the signs must meet.
Motorists feel confused rather than guided Misplaced direction signs were regarded as problematic especially in Italy and Spain where over 50% of respondents complained about this shortcoming. German and Austrian motorists mostly criticised the overabundance of direction signs. More than two thirds of respondents in these countries felt confused rather than well guided.
Another negative aspect are the billboards competing with the signposts for the motorists' attention, thus obstructing traffic flow and impairing road safety. In France, Slovenia and Italy, more than 50% of motorists found this situation annoying, in Croatia, approximately 60%.
A third of respondents think that the signposts in the European road network display too much information. For the majority signs are still comprehensible when they give a maximum of ten different directions. More than 50% of Italian and French motorists even reduced this number to five.
Pictograms vary from country to country In addition to the lettering, pictograms also play a major role on direction signs. The Internet survey shows the significance of standardised road signs, if not at international, at least at European level. For instance, the symbol used in Southern Europe for "city centre" is barely known in many Western and Northern European countries. Even in Germany, where the pictogram was adopted in the German directives on direction signs in 2007, three quarters of German motorists are not familiar with the symbol.
Signs indicating low emission zones are new on our roads and will contribute to further increase the clutter of signs in the future. Congratulations to the German and Italian motorists: over 90% knew that only low emission vehicles are allowed to access these zones. But also in countries which have not yet introduced low emission zones such as Spain or France, approximately two out of three motorists interpreted these signs correctly when viewed on pictures. The British, however, were rather ignorant with fewer than three percent of respondents knowing the meaning of the low emission zone signs.
Respondents select most absurd road sign
The Internet survey participants were also invited to select Europe's most absurd road sign. The number one comes from Italy and is rather vague, showing nothing but an azure background and an orange/red object resembling a full moon. Contradictory direction signs from Austria and the UK came in second and third.