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Traffic Sign Design

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Traffic signs in the United Kingdom is a term which refers to any device installed on the highway that is designed to control, inform, or aid the passage of traffic. This includes traffic signals, road markings and studs, as well as upright signs and bollards. The current system of signing was first introduced in 1963 following the publication of the Worboys Report having replaced the antiquated system of signs that had gradually developed from the 1930s.

Section 132 of the Highways Act 1980 stipulates that only a highway authority may lawfully erect traffic signs, any other installation is deemed to be an obstruction and is not permitted. Some authorities are more proactive at removing unlawful obstructions than others, particularly with regards to advertisements. In order to prevent highways authorities from erecting signs that are not fit for purpose, a series of legislative and advisory frameworks exist.

The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions

The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (abbreviated to TSRGD) constitute the primary Statutory Instrument prescribing the design and conditions of use of traffic signs that can be lawfully placed on or near roads in England, Scotland, and Wales. Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands each have their own equivalents of these which either replace or complement the principal document for England, Scotland, and Wales.

The modern version of the TSRGD dates back to 1957, and was updated comprehensively with the introduction of the Worboys Committee signs in 1964. Later revisions followed in 1975 and 1981, with the 1994 edition introducing the current 'Guildford Rules' colour co-ordinated patching system, which was further improved upon in 2002. The most up to date edition is from 2016.

TSRGD 2016 has abandoned the traditional format of diagram numbers with supporting directions in the back of the book. All relevant diagrams have their associated directions and regulations in the same section, meaning that traffic engineers have to effectively re-learn how to use the book. At the same time, the number of signs requiring DfT authorisation has been slashed and the onus has been placed more on highway authorities to make the most of the available combinations to create a finalised sign. In addition to this, separate SIs such as the Pedestrian Crossings Regulations have been incorporated into the same book.

Traffic Signs Manual


The original Traffic Signs Manual featured a green hard cover and was designed so that new pages could be inserted and redundant ones removed. The Manual was never completed and sections remained unfulfilled.

This format proved to be unwieldy and was replaced with separate volumes starting in 1977, which also dealt with the issues presented by metricating all dimensions.


The Traffic Signs Manual is formed from eight separate books or chapters. These chapters give guidance on the correct use of signs in accordance with TSRGD and other aspects of law related to the use of signs and the directions that they give to both motorised and non-motorised road users.

Three different eras of the Traffic Signs Manual. This example of Chapter 5 is a printed copy direct from the DfT website.

Most parts of the Traffic Signs Manual now relate to the current legislation as of 2019:

  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Chapter 2 Directional Informatory Signs on Motorways and All-Purpose Roads (not yet published)
  • Chapter 3 Regulatory Signs
  • Chapter 4 Warning Signs
  • Chapter 5 Road Markings
  • Chapter 6 Traffic Signals
  • Chapter 7 The Design of Traffic Signs
  • Chapter 8 Traffic Safety Measures and Signs for Road Works and Temporary Situations

Working Drawings

The Department for Transport maintains a series of working drawings for all prescribed signs. These drawings cover most aspects of the design of specific signs in TSRGD. Some are detailed in millimetres, while others are dimensioned in stroke widths. One stroke width is one-quarter of the height of lower case letter x in Transport Medium at the letter height being used for design of the sign in question. The working drawing series does not include signs whose design is determined largely by the sites where they are erected, e.g. most directional informatory signs; these generally have to be designed according to guidelines given in Chapter 7 of the TSM. Separate series of working drawings, not actively published, are available for non-prescribed signs in England & Wales and for bilingual signs in Wales.

Categories of drawings include:

  • Alphabet Drawings
  • General Symbol Drawings (S Series)
  • Tourist Symbol Drawings (T Series)
  • Approved Tourist Symbol Drawings (AT Series)
  • Warning signs (P500 series)
  • Regulatory signs (P600 series)
  • Railway and tramway level crossings (P700 series)
  • Miscellaneous informatory signs (P800 series)
  • Bus, tram and pedal cycle facilities (P900 series)
  • Road markings (P1000 series)
  • Directional signs (P2000 series)
  • Traffic signals (P3000 series)
  • Signals for crossing facilities (P4000 series)
  • Lane control signs (P5000 series)
  • Signs for road works (P7000 series)

Under the 2016 TSRGD, these have also been grouped under the section of the TSGRD in which the relevant diagram the working drawing is for appears.

Special signs authorisation

Sometimes, it may be appropriate to have a sign that falls outside of the prescribed series of signs, symbols, road markings etc. A process exists where by a variation can be submitted to the Department for Transport for approval for use on the highway. Such applications may be made retrospectively if necessary but generally the Department for Transport are not in favour of doing this - retrospective authorisation implies a sign was unlawfully erected after all! Any sign that isn't prescribed or specially approved for use by the DfT is unlawful and falls under the category of Obstruction as per Section 132 of the Highways Act 1980.

Traffic sign design software

A view of the Signplot user interface by Buchanan Computing.
A view of the KeySIGNS user interface by Keysoft Systems.

For many years there were two key software companies producing software for the design of traffic signs, signals and road markings, these being Keysoft (formerly Key Traffic Systems) and Buchanan Computing. The two companies offer similar product ranges, with Key Traffic Systems concentrating on add on functionality to AutoCAD and Buchanan Computing developing for both the MapInfo platform and standalone applications. Both require an understanding of the regulations in order to be utilised to their maximum potential. More recently, there are fledgling companies such as Causeway (producers of PDS Sign), and DesignPro Software which have introduced CAD based sign designing tools. Cadaptor Solutions have added sign design tools to their Temporary Traffic Management software.

Licences to operate these programs can be very expensive, so for the amateur enthusiast looking to make realistic road signs, it is recommended that desktop graphics packages are used instead.

See also


Department for Transport – Traffic Signs Manual

Department for Transport

Welsh Government

Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland

Traffic sign design software

Traffic Sign Design
Related Pictures
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Traffic Signs
TypesInformation (UK TSRGD) • (IRL TSM) • Regulatory (UK TSRGD) • (IRL TSM) • Warning (UK TSRGD) • (IRL TSM)
UKAnderson report • Worboys report • Traffic Sign Design • TSRGD and TSM (Motorway alphabet • Transport alphabet) • Guildford Rules
IrelandTraffic Signs Manual • Gaeltacht Signage
MiscellaneousBilingual signs • List of Street Furniture Manufacturers

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