Highways England trials multilingual roadworks signs


Highways England (HE) has started giving roadworks information in nine foreign languages on several of its portable electronic variable message signs (VMS) in a ground-breaking initiative to improve roadworks information for continental truck drivers.

The new system being trialed by HE works with an automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) camera mounted at the side of the road that reads the plate, notes a non-UK registration, and then warns the VMS that an overseas truck is approaching and the sign then selects the appropriate foreign language to deliver a message such as: ‘M6 J.44 Cerrado’ – ‘closed’ in Spanish. The pilot is taking place in Cumbria where £7m (US$8.7m) of improvements are taking place along the M6 north of Carlisle. The latest phase of the work is focused on the roundabout at the busy junction 44 of the motorway and truck drivers are being warned in German, French, Polish, Romanian, Dutch, Spanish, Lithuanian, Slovak and Hungarian when the roundabout is closed for the overnight work.

It is believed to be the first time in the UK that electronic signs have been used in this way to get information to continental truckers. The innovative multilingual signs have also been placed along the A66 and A69 to warn drivers about the overnight junction closures. HE staff, specialists and contractors are being encouraged to try new ways of operating, maintaining, repairing and improving the country’s motorways and major A roads. A £150m (US$187m) innovation fund has been set up to support new initiatives.

According to Department for Transport (DfT) figures, foreign truck drivers are eight times more likely to be involved in a serious or fatal accident than their UK counterparts. With overseas trucks accounting for only one per cent of the total in the country, the proportion of accidents in which they are involved is far greater. Current figures show an increase of 14% when compared to figures from 2012, with trucks from Poland involved in the highest number of accidents, followed by those from Germany, Spain, France and then the Netherlands.

“We’re a listening and learning organization and we’re determined to improve the way customers get roadworks information,” explained HE’s senior project manager Steve Mason. “We carried out major improvements along the A66 near Penrith last year and while the communications and diversion routes worked well, we had some feedback from Cumbria Police that foreign lorry drivers were missing some of the messaging. This not only inconvenienced the drivers but also local communities as we had lorries on inappropriate diversion routes. We’ve taken that learning on board and hopefully providing tailored messaging for foreign lorry drivers will improve everyone’s experience of these roadworks.”

Inspector Steve Minnikin from Cumbria Police, commented, “We provided a lot of support around the A66 closures last year and we’re delighted to see that Highways England has responded to our feedback by trialing this idea by being more aware of language differences and being considerate in meeting their needs. We all believe this will assist the lorry drivers from other countries in rescheduling their journeys and avoid driving into a road closure with all the inconvenience that it can cause themselves and others.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.