Road Signs Survey - Road signs in the European Union
40 years since the Vienna Convention: long time, minimal effect
What a lovely ideal: standardised traffic regulations, road signs and signals throughout the world, making it easy for motorists to find their way on any road. This is what the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs, meanwhile signed by 56 states, had in mind. However, reality paints a different picture.
On the one hand, the Convention includes signs which European motorists do not understand. According to an ADAC survey conducted in 2004, many motorists had, for instance, problems with No Parking signs. Most respondents did not recognise the signs for e.g. alternate side parking on even or odd dates. On the other hand, existing road signs are not regularly compared with the Convention and corresponding amendments are not implemented. It is not uncommon that by the time the signs are compared and the road safety working group, responsible for international regulations together with the United Nations' UNECE Inland Transport Committee, adopts the amendments, the signs are being removed in some countries.
Here is one example: In 1995, the road sign indicating the radio frequency was included in the European agreement supplementing the Convention. However, the sign had been a familiar sight on German roads since 1974. It took no fewer than 20 years for this road sign to become effective if not at international, at least at European level. In 2003, the sign was deleted from the German Highway Code and approx. 10,000 signs disappeared from German roads as they had become redundant in view of the wide range of radio stations and technical innovations such as automated station search.
Bottom line: Once in the Convention - forever in the Convention. This is what motorists can be sure of. No one will come up with the idea to make the signs a point for further discussion, even if their design is hopelessly obsolete or if they are no longer used anywhere. After all, it took decades to decide on a standardised road sign design. And who knows, they might be useful again in the unforeseen future.
The responsible UN group is busy working on the next project, the road traffic resolution which, according to Ralph Kellermann, Chairman of the Inland Transport Committee, is to be adopted this year. The resolution has been developed for over ten years. This is quite a long time for a resolution which, unlike the Convention, is not legally binding.
The resolution focuses on recommendations for tourist signposting. Signs indicating points of interest and tourist facilities such as museums or castles should exclusively be brown and white. However, not rarely are these colours used to indicate manufacturing plants or industrial areas, and tourists will end up at a gravel pit rather than the desired swimming lake.
There are other aspects where the rules and regulations lag behind motorist needs: According to the resolution, tourist direction signs should include as many pictograms as possible. However, the Vienna Convention currently only uses pictograms to indicate phones, picnic areas or youth hostels. The tourist information pictogram is no longer a part of the Convention but only included in the road traffic sign resolution. This provides the national road authorities with plenty of room for individual design. And we can be sure that they will make use of it.