Hidden road signs

Drivers run gauntlet of overgrown warnings

Wet then warm weather has led to phenomenal foliage growth leading to ‘lost’ road signs

Wet then warm weather has led to phenomenal foliage growth leading to ‘lost’ road signs

Drivers venturing out on to unfamiliar roads for the last hurrah of the summer continue to run the risk of accidents and fines because many critical signs are still hidden behind overgrown foliage, says the AA.

Other road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians, are also at risk because many rural roads have been artificially narrowed by overgrown grass banks and hedgerows resulting in confusion about the absolute width of some roads. This makes road users uncertain of the correct path to take – especially when they meet another coming in the opposite direction.

Critical information

Speed limits, particularly along country roads, bridge height warnings, and stop and give way signs hidden behind uncut trees and hedges are depriving some motorists of critical road safety information along roads they often have no knowledge of.

Even along many major roads, overhanging bushes and trees reduce the time that drivers have to read and process in their minds directional signs and other roadside information. This raises the likelihood of drivers slowing down unexpectedly or carrying out sharp manoeuvres.

Overgrown signs

Overgrown signs

Members' opinion

Almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) to an AA Populus panel poll think foliage growth is inevitable and will obscure some signs - 41% accept that highway authorities cannot keep every sign clear at all times.

However, 91% think that a lack of essential information constitutes a danger to road users.

Shrinking highway budgets and wet then warm weather has led to phenomenal foliage growth leading to ‘lost’ road signs

Paul Watters, AA head of roads policy


“Shrinking highway budgets and wet then warm weather has led to phenomenal foliage growth leading to ‘lost’ road signs.  The annual curse of signs being covered by foliage has reached new levels in 2012 with thousands of signs going undercover this summer,” says Paul Watters, the AA’s head of Roads Policy.

“Many signs are obscured by foliage from non-highway land and it is the landowner’s responsibility to cut it back. Ultimately, the highway authority can take action if the landowner refuses but this can take vital time before the sign can be cleared.

Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance Management

UK Roads Liaison Board - Well Maintained Highways – Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance Management (April 2012 version 5)

9.15.1 Traffic signs are the most visible elements of the highway network, highly valued by users, and contribute significantly to network serviceability through facilitating efficient and effective use of the network.

9.15.3 Vegetation potentially obscuring road signs should be recorded during safety inspections and service inspections of carriageways, footways and cycle routes, and treated accordingly. Additional inspections may be needed during periods of maximum growth (May-June).

10.9.8 Condition standards and frequency of grass cutting on rural roads should be determined locally from risk assessment, but by default:

  • embankment and cutting slopes and verges, except visibility areas, should not normally be cut;
  • on all other roads, visibility areas, and to provide a pedestrian refuge, the first swathe from the edge of the carriageway should always be kept cut. Frequency of mowing will depend on the rate of growth but will normally be twice per year. Other areas of highway grass should also be cut every three years unless a positive decision is taken to allow it to vegetate. Performance based standards can be included in maintenance contracts.

(Updated  29 August 2012)

AA/Populus Panel: Populus received 16,850 responses from AA members to its online poll between 22th and 30th June 2011. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.


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