An end to pointless variable message signs?

Major Waffle
PetrolBlog calls to and to pointless motorway signs. Why do we need to be told a SIGN IS NOT IN USE anyway? Here's a potential solution to the problem. Points mean prizes.

The more I use motorways and dual-carriageways, the more I realise that the humble variable message sign is the most under and over-used feature on British roads. Don't get me wrong, they can often serve a good purpose, but sometimes they are just rubbish.

Take the one on the M5, just outside Exeter. It's a huge sign, with a very small section exclaiming ‘SIGN NOT IN USE’. What? If the sign isn't in use, why not leave it blank? By virtue of the fact that you're telling me the sign isn't in use, you're diverting my attention away from the road and are therefore causing an unnecessary distraction. A pointless sign.

Then there's the overly helpful and overtly patronising signs. There you are, battling through the elements, wipers on full speed, eyes straining to see through the spray in front of you. What does the sign say? ‘CAUTION: SPRAY’. Really? REALLY? You mean to say I took my eyes off the Nissan Micra with no lights, simply for you to tell me to look out for spray? Jeez.

Motorway Electronic Signs

And what about the ‘TIREDNESS KILLS, TAKE A BREAK’. Tiredness may indeed kill, but then so might I if I'm continually subjected to mindless ‘nanny state’ messages such as this.

I even remember one from last winter which actually asked a question. ‘IS YOUR CAR READY FOR THE WINTER?’ Is my car ready for the winter? Well no, actually. The last time we spoke it was suffering from chapped lips, a mild sniffle and a lack of wooly jumpers. But aside from that, it's all good.

Now admittedly, they are sometimes helpful. If, for example, you happen to be on the M5 and approaching the A30 exit, it's good to know that the A303 is shut at Stonehenge, because it gives you time to make other plans, such as taking the M4 instead. What's less helpful is a sign when heading west on the A303, past the A34 junction, telling me that the A1/A52 junction is closed in Lincolnshire. How on earth is that relevant to my journey westwards?

I get the impression that some warnings are put up just to keep someone occupied. Which has given me an idea. An idea which is so cunning, it avoids the needless ‘SIGN NOT IN USE’ warning, could be an answer to ‘TIREDNESS KILLS, TAKE A BREAK’ and could actually make driving fun. It's all quite simple - make use of the signs by creating a motorway-based interactive quiz.

Picture the scene. You approach a motorway gantry and glance up to see a question. “In what year did King Henry VIII die?” Choose from a) 1509, b) 1547 or c) 1574. Naturally you'd say 1547, a fact that would be revealed a couple of junctions up the motorway.

Signs: Queues Ahead

Maybe each motorway could have themed days. So, carrying on with the King Henry VIII theme, the M4's next question could be “What was the name of King Henry VIII's first wife?” Choose from a) Catherine of Aragon, b) Catherine Howard or c) Catherine Parr. Think of the conversations being played out at Leigh Delamere services. Far more cultured than the usual tripe about Justin Timbieber and Kim Carcrashian.

Should the pilot scheme go well, there's no reason why the quiz shouldn't become totally interactive. By using controls on the steering wheel, drivers could select the answer a, b or c. By the end of each day we'll know where the brainiest drivers have been. We'll call it ‘The Hunt for Britain's Brightest Motorway’. And the best news is that nobody needs to pay Holly Willoughby or Amanda Holden to host it.

Maybe it's even a way of softly introducing tolls across the major road network? Pay a tenner to drive up the M1, but if you managed to answer all thirty questions right on your journey northwards, you could win your money back. So your unrivalled knowledge of all the Stone Roses B-sides will come in handy after all. As could your knowledge of Zambia, Showaddywaddy, castles of England and collectable Toby jugs.

Just think, for once, points may actually mean prizes when you're out on the road. Brilliant.

It's impossible to see how this could fail. An end to the monotony of driving on Britain's motorway and a quest to raise the average IQ of this great nation. Mr Speaker, I put this proposal to the house. Another public service announcement. With this and Tollfoolery, we can put the fun back into motorway driving. Thank you.

Photos ©