On busy Velachery Bypass Road, a traffic signboard warning of a speed breaker, faces an apartment complex, instead of the motorists it is meant for.

While motorists familiar with the stretch slow down ahead of it, others just about manage to take the u-turn right after it, while many others scramble to switch lanes and slow down. With the city expanding at its seams and dozens of vehicles added to its roads each day, experts say there is a need for comprehensive and consistent road signage and traffic signals to make roads more navigable and less accident-prone.

For motorists such as Vijay Venkatesh, who refer to road signs while driving, an upturned signboard is a big deterrent. “Signboards, especially about speed-breakers, need to be visible. Faded signboards or those that are not visible because of an obstruction, make driving difficult for those wearing spectacles as well as for senior citizens,” he says. 

Rohit Baluja, president, Institute of Road Traffic Education, points to several sign boards in the city that do not match the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) codes for road signs, which are guidelines pertaining to the classification, orientation, colours, sizes and visibility of road signs. India is also a signatory to the 1968 Convention of Road Signs and Signals. Pointing to a sign in blue and red after the Kotturpuram bridge prohibiting road users from taking the immediate right, he says, according to guidelines, that colour combination should only be used for parking-related signs. “Anything that is within a red circle means that it is prohibitory – a negative sign,” he says.

Also, there are no standardised signs advising drivers to wear helmets, or to refrain from drinking and driving. “These are mandated by law,” he adds. So when a sign places a helmet within a red circle, it conveys the exact opposite of the intended message, he says pointing to a sign on Velachery Main Road.

Road signs, he says, provide the basis of road user behaviour. “Discrepancies arise when work is outsourced and common standards are not maintained,” he says. However, he also cautions against excessive and unnecessary use of signs. “Too many signs will only distract the driver.”

K.P. Subramanian, former professor of urban engineering, Anna University calls for greater co-ordination between the Regional Transport Offices, urban planners, traffic engineers, traffic police, the transport department and highways engineers to ensure awareness of road signs among users. This, he says, will eventually lead to seamless navigation. The country is not signage savvy, an urban planning expert said, as most people only look at the road, not the footpaths, where most signs are put up.

An official from the traffic police, while maintaining that they follow IRC codes, admitted that there were a few signs in the city that need changing.

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