New research has revealed that the average driver knows only 79% of British road sign meanings, with one in five road signs a mystery.
For two in five drivers, not being able to understand a sign has led to problems on the road. The most common mistakes due to misinterpreting road signs are breaking the speed limit (16%), braking suddenly (15%) and having to slow down, causing traffic to build up (9%).
Perhaps recognising the gaps in their knowledge, the majority of drivers believe that the driving theory and hazard perception tests should be retaken throughout people’s motoring lives, with more than half (53%) thinking it should be repeated at least once every twenty years.
When researchers for Kwik Fit, the firm behind the study, tested drivers on some specific roads signs and road markings, some major gaps in their knowledge were revealed. Only one in ten drivers correctly identified the central white line markings which indicate a hazard ahead. In direct contrast to their true meaning, the vast majority (66%) believed that this line meant normal road conditions.
A circular white sign with a red border is worryingly unfamiliar to the majority of drivers, as only a quarter (27%) know that this means “all vehicles prohibited expect bicycles being pushed by pedestrians”. More than this number (30%) of drivers think it signifies a “red route – no waiting” while a further third (33%) admitted to not knowing.
While a white “C” on a red circle should be familiar to drivers in the capital, one in four Londoners (22%) don’t recognise this as signifying a congestion charging zone. In fact, 6% of Londoners think it means “caution children ahead” with 4% believing it marks a charging point for electric vehicles. Those drivers from outside London should take care if they are making a trip to the capital, as more than a third (34%) could not correctly identify the road sign, and so could find themselves risking a penalty fine.
Signs giving indications of speed caused confusion for a surprising number of drivers. The research found that almost one in five drivers (19%) were flummoxed by the meaning of a white circle with a black diagonal bar. 5% thought this meant a 70mph limit applied, 4% thought 60mph applied while 7% thought it meant no speed restrictions, something which doesn’t apply on any public road in the UK. The correct meaning is “national speed limit applies”.
Research spokesman, Roger Griggs, says: “The findings show that although many of us think we are good drivers, we are ready to accept that we don’t know the meanings of all road signs. Our research showed that some surprising results, and indicated that there are some clear instructions and safety warnings which drivers are not picking up on when out on the road. While people can’t be expected to voluntarily retake their test, it would be a good idea for even those of us who have been driving a long time to make sure we really do know the correct meaning of road signs and markings.”