The results of the recent Road Safety Markings Association (RSMA) survey may have gone unnoticed by many, and indeed those who read the reports may have simply thought that this was yet another example of austerity measures biting as government bodies cut back on expenditure.
The RMSA survey revealed that 50.6% of road markings in Britain were ‘barely visible’, with 23% requiring ‘emergency repair’. The survey, which looked at 483 miles of British road, found that only 7% of markings across the country scored the highest rating. The roads assessed were not only the back roads or side roads; amongst the roads assessed were stretches of the M1, M6 and M18, all of which were found to be badly affected. There are obviously implications as far as road safety is concerned; and that is perhaps quite a separate topic. What operated in my mind, however, was the extent worn, indistinct or, in some cases, almost invisible markings could impact upon compliance.
Should you require a solution to insomnia, delving into the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 may prove worthwhile. The regulations consolidate previous regulations with substantial significant amendment but, in essence, they deal with the requirement, i.e. colour, size and type, of road traffic signs.
It is an offence to fail to conform to road traffic signs and in this regard any signs placed on or near a road are deemed to be in conformance with the regulations, unless the contrary can be proved.
It is important that there is a distinction drawn between signs that do not conform from the outset and those that have become worn or damaged. Courts in the past have exercised their minds such cases. In one such matter where the studding on a pelican crossing was not in compliance with regulation, the Courts ruled the driver concerned was not guilty of offence. Even in one case in which a road sign was “clearly recognisable to a reasonable man’, the failure of the sign to conform to regulations proved a fundamental flaw to the prosecution case.
Lest one might run away with the idea that the slightest departure from the regulations will provide carte blanche to ignore the sign, a court found that where the road users were not misled or misinformed, and the deviation was so insignificant that in effect it could be disregarded, that that sign ought to be complied with.
Wear and tear to road signs, or indeed markings painted on the roads, and in particular the extent that they have become worn, presents a separate, quite distinct situation from signs which were never compliant.
In a 1979 case, the Court of Appeal considered the situation whereby a stop sign painted on the road was not fully visible. They returned the case back to the Magistrates Court with directions that they must convict the Defendant. This drew a distinction between an initial and continuing failure to comply with the regulations and the situation whereby the sign had in fact been lawfully placed but was only now partially visible.
Where the sign has been completely obliterated by wear and tear, or at least obliterated to the extent where it is no longer recognisable, there may be a case that can be legitimately argued before the courts; although each case is based on the particulars of the circumstances involved.
If, therefore, you feel aggrieved by prosecution for non compliance with a road sign/traffic signal, it may be worth revisiting the location to check on the visibility and/or viability of the signage in place, particularly where the local authority or the Highways Agency have been neglectful in the upkeep of the signage.