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A typical roundabout sign on a primary road, displaying a number of design errors
A primary route roundabout sign at Gatwick Airport's North Terminal, again showing design errors

Road signs in the United Kingdom conform broadly to European norms, though a number of signs are unique to Britain and direction signs omit European route numbers.



A Pre-Worboys Road sign on Belsize Road approaching the A5, Kilburn High Road. Only a handful of these pre-1963 signs still exist

Signage for roads within the United Kingdom developed incrementally after 1904, when the Local Government Board first published a circular on traffic signing. The standards governing this system remained of an advisory nature until 1933 when regulations for traffic signs were published under powers created by the Road Traffic Act 1930.

The system currently in use was mainly developed in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, with additional colour coding introduced in the mid 1980s. There were three major steps in the development of the system.

  • The Anderson Committee established the motorway signing system.
  • The Worboys Committee reformed signing for existing all-purpose roads.
  • The Guildford Rules introduced features to indicate different categories of route.

Anderson Committee

In 1957, a government committee was formed to design signs for the new motorway network. A system was needed that could be easily read at high speed. Colin Anderson, chairman of P&O, was appointed chairman; T. G. Usborne, of the Ministry of Transport had charge of proceedings. Two graphic designers were commissioned to design the system of signage: Jock Kinneir and his assistant (and later business partner) Margaret Calvert. The new signs were first used on the Preston By-pass in 1958.[1]

Worboys Committee

In 1961, graphic designer Herbert Spencer published two articles that illustrated the shortcomings of non-motorway British road signs. In response, the government formed another committee in 1963 to review signage on all British roads. It was chaired by Sir Walter Worboys of ICI, Usborne was again in charge, and Kinneir and Calvert were again commissioned as designers. The result was a document that defined traffic signing in Britain: Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (TSRGD). It was first introduced on 1 January 1965 but has been updated since. It is comparable with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices in the United States.

Guildford Rules

As part of an effort to eliminate sign clutter in the mid-1980s, a colour-coding system was developed to indicate information pertaining to different categories of route. The system became known as Guildford Rules, after the town of Guildford, Surrey, where experimental versions of this signing system were tested. But in later years, the term Guildford Rules became infrequently used.


A sign for the Magic Roundabout in Swindon showing a rather unorthodox method of incorporating mini-roundabouts into signage. (The standard method, introduced in the 1994 TSRGD, is to use a black disc with central white dot for each mini-roundabout.) This peculiarity is common in Wiltshire.
A British speed limit (in mph) sign in a residential area

UK roadsigns are governed by an extremely complex and detailed set of guidelines:


Almost all signs have rounded corners. This is partly for aesthetic reasons, but also because it is safer for anyone coming into contact with a sign and because it makes the sign more durable because rain is less likely to corrode the corners.

Units of measurement

Britain is the only European Union member nation to use Imperial rather than SI measurements for distance[2] and speed.[3] Aside from the USA and Burma-Myanmar, it is the only highways network still adopting the imperial system but the Secretary of State for Transport can authorise the use of metric units (and in the case of Driver location signs has done so).[4] The Welsh Assembly and the appropriate minister in the Scottish Parliament have similar powers. However, vehicle weight limits are signed only in metric (TSRGD 1981), and as of December 2009 metric units may optionally be used in addition to imperial ones for height, width and length restrictions.

However, in view of the disproportionate number of bridge strikes involving foreign lorries (between 10 and 12% in 2008) [5], the British Government is proposing to make dual units mandatory on new width and height warning and restriction signs from mid-2010.[6] However, a wholesale metrication of distance signage in line with all other EU states is not under consideration.


Three colour combinations are used on Worboys direction signs depending upon the category of the route. A road may be a motorway (white on blue), a primary route (white on dark green with yellow route numbers), or a non-primary route (black on white).[7][8]

TSRGD 1994 prescribed a system of white-on-brown direction signs for tourist attractions and also introduced the Guildford Rules (see below). TSRGD 2002[9] contains the current standards and includes a sophisticated system of black-on-yellow direction signs for roadworks.

On Advance Direction Signs, as introduced under the Guildford rules, the background colour indicates the category of route on which it is located.[8] On all directional signs, destination names are placed on the colour appropriate to the category of route used from that junction.[8] A panel of one colour on a different colour of background therefore indicates a change of route status.[8] A smaller area of colour, called a patch, surrounds a bracketed route number (but not its associated destination) to indicate a higher status route that is joined some distance away.[8] A patch may only be coloured blue or green.[8]

Other colours indicate the type of destination or category of road user, rather than route status; for example, brown for tourist attractions. Colour coding is not used on temporary directional signs at roadworks, which are always yellow.

For ease of reference, the main colour coding rules are summarised in Table 1.

Background Border Lettering Usage Ruleset
White Black Black Non-primary Route Worboys
White Red Black Ministry of Defence sites
Yellow Black Black Roadworks Guildford
Green White White with Yellow Route Numbers Primary Route Worboys
Blue White White Motorway Anderson
Brown White White Attractions

Table 1

The colour coding for Patches and/or Panels on signs is summarised in Table 2.

Patch or Panel Border Lettering Usage Ruleset
Red White Hospitals Guildford
Red Black Ministry of Defence sites Guildford
Green White Primary Route Guildford
Blue White Motorway Guildford
Brown White Attractions Guildford

Table 2


Two typefaces are specified for current British road signs: Transport and Motorway.

Transport is a mixed-case font and is used for all text on fixed permanent signs except route numbers on motorway signs.[10] It is used in two weights: Transport Medium (for light text on dark backgrounds) and Transport Heavy (for dark text on light backgrounds).[10]

Motorway has a limited character set consisting of just numbers and a few letters and symbols needed to show route numbers; it has elongated characters and is designed to add emphasis to route numbers on motorways[10]. Motorway is used to sign all route numbers on motorways themselves, and may also be used on non-motorway roads to sign directions in which motorway regulations apply immediately (such as motorway slip roads). Motorway Permanent is light characters on dark background; Motorway Temporary (dark on light).

Transport Medium and Motorway Permanent were developed for the Anderson Committee and appeared on the first motorway signs. The other two typefaces are similar but have additional stroke width in the letters to compensate for light backgrounds. These typefaces are the only ones permitted on road signs in the UK. Although signs containing other typefaces do appear occasionally in some places, they are explicitly forbidden in Government guidelines, and are technically illegal.


Signs in Wales are generally bilingual, such as this "historic route" sign on the A5
Place names in Gaelic are becoming increasingly common on road signs throughout the Scottish Highlands

Bilingual signs are used in Wales. Welsh highway authorities choose whether they are "English-priority" or "Welsh-priority", and the language having priority in each highway authority's area appears first on signs. Most of south Wales is English-priority while western and northern Wales is Welsh-priority. Bilingual signs were permitted by special authorisation after 1965 and in 1972 the Bowen Committee recommended that they should be provided systematically throughout Wales. Bilingual signing in Wales and elsewhere has caused traffic engineers to inquire into the safety ramifications of providing sign legend in multiple languages. As a result some countries have opted to limit bilingual signing to dual-name signs near places of cultural importance (New Zealand), or to use it only in narrowly circumscribed areas such as near borders or in designated language zones (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries). A small number of these signs exist in the UK on major roads that leave major ports (such as Dover). They detail in English, French, German, and, occasionally, Swedish, standard speed limits and reminders to drive on the left. Multi-lingual "no parking" signs exist in several locations on the M25.

In the Scottish Highlands, road signs are often found with the Scottish Gaelic given in green, in addition to the English in black. This seems to be part of the Gaelic language revival encouraged by many, including the Bòrd na Gàidhlig; see Gaelic road signs in Scotland.

A non-primary road sign near Bristol showing Guildford Rules patches


The direction sign shown on the right of this page is located near Bristol. It is patched according to the Guildford Rules. It gives directions to (Bristol) Parkway railway station (red British Rail symbol), motorways (blue-background patches), and towns reached via non-primary A-roads. Red-edged panels and red-bordered signs are used for military establishments (the Ministry of Defence at Abbey Wood in this example). Destinations which are reached indirectly have the corresponding road number in brackets; for instance, the sign indicates that Filton is reached by following the A4174 ring road to the A38 and then turning on to the A38 for Filton.


Road signs in the United Kingdom may be categorised as:

Directional signs

An old style fingerpost directional sign in the village of Chawton

The term "directional sign" covers both Advance Direction Signs (ADS), placed on the approach to a junction,[11] and Direction Signs (DS) at the junction itself, showing where to turn.[11] A DS has a chevron (pointed) end, and this type is also referred to as a flag-type sign.[12]

An Advance Direction Sign may be one of four types:

  • Stack type[11] — with the destinations in each direction on a separate panel that also contains an arrow;
  • Map-type[11] — to give a highly clear and simplified diagrammatic plan view of a junction, for example a roundabout.
  • Dedicated lane[11] — shows the destinations separated by vertical dotted lines to indicate which lane to use;
  • Mounted overhead[11] — for use on busy motorways and other wide roads where verge mounted signs would be frequently obstructed by other traffic.

An ADS generally has blue, green or white as its background colour to indicate the status of road (motorway, primary or non-primary) on which it is placed. Except on the main carriageway of a motorway, coloured panels are used to indicate routes from the junction being signed that have a different status. A DS should always be a single colour indicating the status of the road to be joined, although there are a few rare exceptions to this rule.

The Heavy and Medium typefaces were designed to compensate for the optical illusion that makes dark lines on pale backgrounds appear narrower than pale lines on dark backgrounds. Hence destinations are written in mixed case white Transport Medium on green and blue backgrounds, and in black Transport Heavy on white backgrounds. Route numbers are coloured yellow when placed directly on a green background. Some signs logically show the closest destination on the route first (ie, on top), while others show the most distant settlement first. On a roundabout DS, the route locations are usually listed with the closest destination at the bottom and the furthest away at the top when going straight ahead, and likewise going left and right. However, many left-right signs indicate the closest destination at the top with further afield destinations listed in descending order.

All types of ADS (but not DS) may optionally have the junction name at the top of the sign in capital letters in a separate panel.

A route confirmatory sign is placed either after a junction where distances were not shown on the ADS or DS or is placed on an overhead information sign but does not show distances to the destinations along that route.[12]

Warning signs

This sign warns drivers that there may be a queue (line) of traffic ahead, possibly hidden beyond a visual obstruction
UK road sign warning of horses and riders ahead

The importance of a warning sign is emphasised by the red border drawn around it and the mostly triangular shape.

Regulatory sign in Brighton, meaning "no motor vehicles"

Regulatory signs

Signs in circular red borders are prohibitive, whether or not they also have a diagonal red line. Circular blue signs mainly give a positive (mandatory) instruction. Such circular signs may be accompanied by, or place on, a rectangular plate (information) that provides details of the prohibition or instruction; for example, waiting and loading plates and zone entry signs.

"Stop" signs (octagonal) and "Give Way" signs (inverted triangle) are the two notable exceptions, the distinctive shapes being recognisable even if the face is obscured by dirt or snow.

Informational signs

Informational signs are mainly rectangular (square or oblong) but, strictly speaking, this category also covers directional signs. They are often coloured to match the directional signing for the status of road in question, but where this is not necessary they are generally blue with white text. Examples include "lane gain" and "lane drop" signs on grade-separated roads, and "IN" and "OUT" indications for accesses to private premises from the highway.

Road works signs

Road works are normally signalled with a triangular, red-bordered warning format is used to indicate that there are works ahead. The graphic is of a man digging. Within the roadworks, diversions and other instructions to drivers are normally given on yellow signs with black script.[13]

Street name signs

Legally these are not defined as traffic signs in the UK. This gives authorities flexibility on the design and placement of them. They can be fixed to a signpost, wall, lamp column, or building. The text is usually in the Transport typeface used on road signs. It is also common for street nameplates to use the serif font designed by David Kindersley.

Driver location sign and Location marker post on A38 in the West Midlands

Location identifiers

Numbered route markers of one type or another are used to identify specific locations along a road. Historically milestones were used, but since the early twentieth century they fell into disuse. However for administrative and maintenance purposes location marker posts were erected on motorways and certain dual carriageways[14]. The numbers on location marker posts were embedded into emergency roadside telephone numbers and were used by the emergency services to pinpoint incidents[15]. The advent of the mobile phone meant that location numbers that were embedded into motorway emergency telephone systems could no longer be used and since 2007 driver location signs have been erected on many motorways. These contain important information about the location and carriageway direction, and the reference number should be quoted in full when contacting the emergency services.

Northern Ireland and Dependant Territories in Europe

The designs of road signs in Great Britain is prescribed in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (TSRGD). These regulations do not extend to other territories that come under the jurisdiction of The Crown. Road signs in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, though generally in line with signs described in this article are subject to domestic legislation rather than the TSRGD. Although the policy in these territories is to align their road signs with those presecibed in the TSRGD, small variations may be seen.

Road signs in Gibraltar and the British Sovereign Area (SBA) in Cyprus are controlled by the Ministry of Defence. In the SBA road signs are modeled on Cypriot road signs rather than British Road signs[16] including the use of metric speed limits[17] while in Gibraltar the rule of the road is to drive on the right and to use metric units (as in Spain). [18]

See also


  1. ^ Description of the work done by Kinneir and Calvert
  2. ^ "Q&A: Pounds, pints and the EU". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 2007-09-11. Retrieved 2007-12-29.  
  3. ^ "Call for metric road sign switch". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 2006-02-23. Retrieved 2007-12-29.  
  4. ^ Highway Agency. "Interim Advice Note 93/07 - Driver Location Signs Interim Performance Specification". Retrieved 2009-08-07.  
  5. ^ "Impact Assessment of the Traffic Signs (Amendment) Regulations and General Directions 2010 and of the Traffic Signs (Temporary Obstructions) (Amendment) Regulations 2010". Department for Transport. Retrieved 2009-12-08.  
  6. ^ "The Traffic Signs (Amendment) Regulations and General Directions 2010 (Draft)". Department for Transport. Retrieved 2009-12-08.  
  7. ^ Department of Transport: "Local Transport Note 1/94", page 1. HMSO, July 1994.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Chapter 7" (PDF). Traffic Signs Manual. London: The Stationery Office. 2005-10-19. p. 16. ISBN 9780115524806. Retrieved 2008-01-13.  
  9. ^ UK Statutory Instrument:"The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002",The Stationery Office, 2002
  10. ^ a b c "Chapter 7" (PDF). Traffic Signs Manual. London: The Stationery Office. 2005-10-19. p. 8. ISBN 9780115524806. Retrieved 2008-01-13.  
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Chapter 7" (PDF). Traffic Signs Manual. London: The Stationery Office. 2005-10-19. p. 14. ISBN 9780115524806. Retrieved 2008-01-13.  
  12. ^ a b "Chapter 7" (PDF). Traffic Signs Manual. London: The Stationery Office. 2005-10-19. p. 15. ISBN 9780115524806. Retrieved 2008-01-13.  
  13. ^ "Chapter 7" (PDF). Traffic Signs Manual. London: The Stationery Office. 2005-10-19. pp. 116–117. ISBN 9780115524806. Retrieved 2008-01-13.  
  14. ^ Highway Agency. "Identification of Incident Locations". Retrieved 2009-07-25.  
  15. ^ Highway Agency. "Driver Location Signs (March 2007)". Retrieved 2009-07-25.  
  16. ^ "Website of the Sovereign British Area, Cyprus". Administration of the Sovereign British Area, Cyprus. Retrieved 2009-12-08.  
  17. ^ "Public Instrument 41 of 2008, MOTOR VEHICLES AND ROAD TRAFFIC (MOTORWAY AND SPEED LIMITS ORDER 2008), Published 2nd December 2008". Administration of the Sovereign British Area, Cyprus. Retrieved 2009-12-08.  
  18. ^ "Getting Around - Driving". Tourism. Retrieved 2009-12-08.  

External links

Official Government Websites

Driving Test Websites


Other resources


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