UK Traffic Signs – A Short History

uk ttraffic signsUK traffic signs in one form or another have been around for a very long time. In Britain, it was actually cycling clubs which were responsible for their introduction in the late 1800’s. Riders were sometimes taken by surprise when coming into sharp corners or steep hills; and cycling organisations began to install signs at known accident spots.

With the popularisation of the ‘motor car’ as a form of transport, it was again independent organisations which took it upon themselves to create and install road signs. The AA, and at the time RSAC (Royal Scottish Automobile Club) began to install traffic signs for the safety and convenience of their members.

In 1903 the Motor Car Act placed responsibility upon local authorities to erect warning signs for hills, crossroads and sharp bends.

In 1918, white lines began to appear on our roads. Then from the 1920’s onwards, they were in widespread use although for fairly lmited purposes.

At the start of the 1920’s, destinations and distances began to appear on signs; and roads were also classified as A or B roads. There were also new signs to warn of schools and railway crossings.

The 1930’s saw the introduction of the ‘stop’ line at junctions. Police officers often controlled these though occasionally traffic lights would take over the job.

Sir Henry Maybury chaired a committee in 1931; their task was to bring about improvements in the use of traffic signs. They designed many new signs to help the motorist over the next couple of years including warning signs for roundabouts and the ‘no entry’ sign.

Percy Shaw gave us the ‘cat’s eye‘ in 1934, a device which can now be seen throughout Britain’s road network. These helped drivers to see the path of unlit roads at night.

White Lines

Painted white lines from 1944 onwards separated traffic lanes. They could also be seen at the road edge particularly where the road encountered a junction or some other hazard. Double white lines along the centre of the road in 1959 designated no overtaking areas.


How to Drive on a MotorwayWith the development of motorways, a whole new system of traffic signs came into being. In 1956 the Anderson Committee concluded that these signs should have a distinctive blue background. They also made them much larger so that drivers could read them at greater distance when travelling at higher speeds.

The road sign system that we have today came about due to the Worboys Committee. They decided that we should adopt the signage which was common throughout Europe. The signs that we still use such as the triangular warning sign with images in the centre began to appear from 1965 onwards.

There are many signs in use on our roads today; some are recognised by most; however others remain something of a mystery. But as a driver you need to be able to recognise and react safely to these signs wherever they appear.



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