Column: The signs are that they know best

Some road signs seem designed to confuse...
Some road signs seem designed to confuse...

It seemed like another blow against the establishment, but once again it appears that they know best!

Essex County Council fined a motorist for going through a bus gate (to you or me a tunnel under a bridge) reserved for buses, cycles and taxis but didn’t reckon on her being a psychologist.

She argued that there were too many signs for the brain to process and it is too late by the time you work out what is going on with no choice but to go under the bridge.

She won her appeal with the adjudicator ruling the signs were cluttered and confusing only for Essex council to trot out the usual line that the fines were reinvested to help improve the transport network and then ‘there is no review of signage planned at the bus gate’.

All too frequently the authorities seem to get it wrong. On one hand, there can either be too many causing confusion as was the case in Essex, they do not make sense or state the obvious.

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Or on the other hand, there is no sign when one is really needed, especially where you are following signs to a particular destination and there isn’t one at the next junction.

Parking signs can be the worst. I like to think that I am not unintelligent but trying to work out whether you can or cannot park at certain times can be clear as mud and totally beyond me on occasions.

Locally you normally get to know the rules but I have ‘taken a chance’ elsewhere and been fined.

At times it seems a cynical ploy. One of my irritations is drivers who don’t seem to know what the yellow hatching on roads mean and some authorities seem to be capitalising on this.

For instance, a London council has been accused of deliberately setting what is known as ‘the moneybox’. During busy periods, traffic lights allow up to 11 vehicles to enter the yellow box junction thinking they will get through, but the phasing of a second set of lights beyond the hatching only lets four vehicles escape. Those trapped are caught on camera and fined.

But it isn’t just on the roads – baffling jargon and terminology is in all walks of life and is could be seen as being used by some as a tactic to confuse.

Why else would supermarkets have one product with a comparative price per kilo next to a similar product with a price per 100g, if not to confuse their customers?

Insurance is a prime example of confusing terminology and while there have been various plain-English campaigns over the years, the only defence I can offer is that many policy wordings have been tested in court and insurers are then understandably loathe to change what has an agreed legal meaning, even if it doesn’t always make sense to the average policyholder.

Things may change in the future, particularly in respect of road signs which could become redundant as we rely on sat-nav-type systems in cars and on smartphones.

However, with what seems like a constant need for health and safety warnings you can only really see more and more appearing, as well as the stupid public-address announcements: “It’s raining so it may be slippery...”