74% of drivers say speed limit signs obscured by overgrown foliage

UK 30 mph road sound with tree in the background

According to new RAC study, 74% of drivers believe that speed limit signs are the most likely to be disguised by overgrown foliage. The most frequently obscured signs are 30 mph signs, which are frequently used to regulate speeds in towns and street-lit areas.

Due to the resurgence of trees and bushes, more than half (53%) of drivers report that they frequently encounter hidden signs while driving, and another 39% report that signs are sometimes more difficult to read during the warmer months.

Just 8% of drivers believe that obstructed signs on nearby roadways are not a concern.

The RAC’s studies show that excessive foliage can negatively impact driver safety, even if it is a pleasant sign of spring and beneficial for animals.

When drivers saw that there was signage hidden by greenery, over four out of ten (42%) claimed it caused them to inadvertently exceed the speed limit, and a quarter (26%) said they missed crucial information that may have endangered their own or someone else’s safety. Nearly one in ten (8%) stated they ended up driving in the wrong direction, and 28% claimed to have missed a turn.

A blooming problem

It is concerning that “red circle” signs—which instruct vehicles on what to do—seem to be the ones that are most frequently obscured by overgrown bushes and trees.

More than half (52%) of drivers claimed that foliage covered 30 mph signs the most, while 4 out of 10 (39%) indicated that 40 mph signs were the hardest to see and 16% said that 20 mph signs were the most overgrown.

Two-thirds (66%) of drivers ranked signs that provide instructions and information or signal an impending motorway junction as the most difficult to detect, ranking them second only to speed limits.

Another 42% thought that additional “red triangle” signs—which alert drivers to risks and changes in the route, like junctions, the end of dual carriageways, and school crossings—were either completely or partially obstructed, and 35% thought it was hard to see “give way” signals.

The majority of drivers (92%) only discovered signs had been obscured as they passed them, which may have left them too late to react to impending hazards, according to the RAC’s research.

Four out of ten (38%) claimed they were unable to see the sign even though they knew where it was, thus they had to rely on local knowledge.

However, concerningly, over one-fifth (18%) claimed that they were unaware of a hidden sign until they saw a speed limit repeater. These signs warn that vehicles may be inadvertently speeding due to overgrown foliage. They could be positioned up to 450 metres after the first “terminal” sign on a single or dual highway that denotes the commencement of a restriction or requirement.

Safety implications

According to RAC research, poorly maintained vegetation not only makes it difficult to see road signs, but it also puts drivers in risk at intersections and roundabouts. Four out of five drivers (81%) who observe that road signs are obstructed claimed that excessive greenery makes it unsafe to exit a crossroads or roundabout.

Because it jeopardises road safety, over half (58%) of the drivers surveyed strongly agreed that foliage shouldn’t be permitted to grow out of control.

A further third (28%) stated that, given their amount of council tax, they anticipate foliage to be cut back.

Just 3% of respondents believe that drivers are not negatively impacted by concealed signage, but nine out of ten (9%), recognise that council funds are short and reductions must be made.

Unsurprisingly, 48% of respondents felt that signs were mostly overgrown on rural roads and only 9% reported that signs were concealed on urban ones. Another 43% said that it was just as hard to see the signs on both kinds of roads.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “In parks and gardens foliage is a welcome sign of spring, but on the roads it’s an entirely different matter if vital information like speed limit changes aren’t visible.

“It’s especially concerning that speed limit signs are often the hardest to detect and drivers are left guessing what the legal limit is before they spot a smaller repeater sign. Any amount of excessive speeding puts everyone on the roads at grave danger, especially on minor and local roads where there’s a greater number of pedestrians.

“Drivers shouldn’t be left to rely on their local knowledge and navigation apps to know if there’s a change in speed limit or if a junction is approaching. And new in-car systems that normally detect road signs and display them on the dashboard are redundant if a sign isn’t visible. Of course, it’s still the motorists’ responsibility to drive at an appropriate speed, whether a road sign is visible or not.

“While we realise local councils are under enormous pressure financially, we nonetheless ask them to inspect all the signs on their networks and do everything in their power to ensure they are clear and visible to drivers, as it’s these signs that can save lives.”

Using the FixMyStreet postcode search feature on the RAC website, drivers may quickly and easily report obstructed signage, which is another way that motorists can contribute. By entering their postcode, users will be directed to FixMyStreet’s online map where they can report overgrown vegetation.

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