AA European Road Sign Survey

Worst signs redefine the term 'Spaghetti junction'

22 October 2008

an italian road sign

A majority of drivers find it hard to understand road signs and 61 % think there are too many signs, according to a pan-European survey of 8000 motorists by the European Motoring clubs – including the AA. Indeed, some of the worst examples of confusing Euro signs redefine the term "spaghetti junction", not only in Italy, but Austria and Germany too.

Despite drivers' concerns about too many road signs and too much roadside "clutter", 82% prefer to use signs rather than satnav to navigate when lost.

Sign designers have made many attempts to codify signs. In most countries motorway signs are blue, long distance signs green, and local signs white, while brown signs point to tourist attractions. Symbols are also used to cut down on sign complexity.

But this survey shows that this system is not understood by many drivers, with 30 per cent not knowing what a brown tourist sign meant and ten per cent guessing wrongly. Yet the coding system does mean that drivers who understand it can follow the coded signs and ignore most direction signs - even when driving on roads they don't know. Then they can concentrate more on other parts of driving.

AA comment

Edmund King, AA president said: "This survey shows there is a need for direction signs. They are what drivers trust when the going gets tough.

"Clear direction signs or signs to an attraction can reassure drivers and allow them to concentrate on the road ahead. Too many signs do confuse motorists and too many drivers just don't understand new signs.

Highway authorities planning new regulations, low emission zones or congestion charging zones will have to take this into account. Highway Authorities also need to remove redundant signs and clamp down on illegal sign erectors."

The survey, conducted on the telephone and through the internet, also produced many examples of illegible, over-complicated and conflicting signs. British drivers were close to the European average in all relevant sections of the study.

The AA suggests that drivers planning a route can use a combination of methods such as the AA route planner, check the journey on a map, use a satnav and also keep an eye on the signs. The UK Department for Transport is currently under-taking a review of road signs in the UK.

The worst signs highlighted in the survey

Some examples of worst practice include a sign so weathered that even a no entry sign can't be read, and one that gave directions to no less than 18 destinations. Others contained junction plans more akin to a plate of spaghetti. The traditional collection of signs attached to posts almost at random also featured. A UK sign was hidden among bill boards.

1 - Italy, Piemont Cuneo-Asti near Marene

location: Italy, Piemont Cuneo-Asti near Marene (source: ACI-Mondadori)

Austria and UK

(2) Austria, Niederösterreich near Vienna (l) and (3) UK, Birmingham (r)

location: Austria, Niederösterreich  near Vienna (source: ÖAMTC)location: UK, Birmingham (source: ADAC)

Germany and Italy

(4) Germany, Wuppertal (l) and (5) Italy, Veneto, San Bonifacio (r)

location: Germany, Wuppertal (source: ADAC)location: Italy, Veneto, San Bonifacio (source: ACI-Mondadori)

Austria and Italy

(6) Austria, Steiermark Rottenmann (l) and (7) Italy, Toscana, Livorno (r)

location: Austria, Steiermark Rottenmann (source: ÖAMTC)location: Italy, Toscana, Livorno (source: ACI-Mondadori)


(8) Germany, Baden-Württemberg Stuttgart (l) and (9) Germany, Niedersachsen Osnabrück (r)

location: Germany, Baden-Württemberg Stuttgart (source: ADAC)location: Germany, Niedersachsen Osnabrück (source: ADAC)


(10) Germany, Rheinland-Pfalz

location: Germany, Rheinland-Pfalz (source: K. Schreiber)

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22 October 2008