Signs warning drivers of the risks of animal road traffic accidents are an important element of the awareness raising programme to reduce the number of casualties in the New Forest. However, there are two important issues that underlie the current signage policy.
First, it is easy to overestimate the effectiveness of signs. The evidence shows that most animal accidents are caused by local drivers who drive along the same roads regularly – often several times a week. They are likely to have seen both the signs and the grazing animals very many times.
Second, even the best signs detract from the open, natural landscape that everyone values.
The ideal balance is probably:
- not to have too many signs (so each one stands out)
- keep the signs simple and direct (so they are easy to understand)
- locate signs where the danger is greatest (at entrances to areas with animals and at the start of high risk routes)
- to change the high risk route signs regularly to catch the eye of local people.
Hampshire County Council is the Highway Authority responsible for signs on the public highway throughout the area where commoners’ animals graze. It has a countywide programme of sign rationalisation (looking at all road signs, not just those warning of animal accidents). As part of this programme, the roles of the New Forest’s very large and complicated shield-shaped warning signs, and the yellow and black signs, are being reviewed.
The B3054, between Lymington and Dibden Purlieu, was chosen as a trial route for replacement of these signs: in September 2010, nine signs were taken down, and four signs that are changed four times a year were put up. This 7 mile (11km) stretch of road is one of the worst routes in the Forest for animal accidents. Between January 2005 and September 2010 there was an average of 30.3 animal accidents and 13.7 deaths (animals that were either killed outright or destroyed because of their injuries). In the four years since the changing signs have been in place, there has been an average of 25.3 animal accidents and 10.3 deaths.
These initial results are encouraging and suggest that the changing signs are having a positive effect. As a result, and in discussion with other organisations, the Highway Authority updated signage on the B3078 and B3080 (in the north of the Forest). This time a combination of static and changing signs has been used. The new signage was complete by mid-April 2016; we hope that accident rates will now fall on this high risk route.