Worboys Committee

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Cover of the report

The Worboys Committee was formed by the British government to review signage on all British roads.[1] In its July 1963 report Traffic signs: report of the committee on traffic signs for all-purpose roads, it found existing road signs to be obsolete for the increasing numbers of motor vehicles and their increasing speeds, and made over a dozen key recommendations. The committee went on to completely revise road signs in Britain, with an emphasis on symbols alone, adopting standard colour and shape practices used in mainland Europe and a new typeface. Its principles were adopted and are still the basis of all road signs in the United Kingdom.

The Anderson Committee[edit]

The first moves to a new signage system was prompted by the first motorways. Flaws of existing signs had already been observed with drivers at speed struggling to interpret them. New signs were needed in 1958 for the opening of the Preston By-pass, the first motorway. A separate committee, known as the 'Anderson Committee', was assembled in 1957 to design signage.[2] The committee took inspiration from the United States and Germany who were designing their own motorways and signage to go with them. Two graphic designers were commissioned to design the system of signage: Jock Kinneir and his assistant (and later business partner) Margaret Calvert.

The Worboys Committee and advisors[edit]

Two articles were published in 1961 by graphic designer Herbert Spencer, illustrating the shortcomings of non-motorway British road signs.[3] The committee was created, chaired by Sir Walter Worboys of ICI.[4] T. G. Usborne of the Ministry of Transport had charge of proceedings, and Jock Kinneir and his assistant (and later business partner) Margaret Calvert were again commissioned as designers.[3]

In 1963, the committee released Traffic signs: report of the committee on traffic signs for all-purpose roads, which completely revised road signs in Britain, with an emphases on symbols alone and adopting standard colour and shape practices used in mainland Europe, adoption of a new typeface that had already been used on the motorway signs, called Transport. On 1 January 1965, the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (TSRGD), the legal framework for road signs in Britain, was revised to adopt the proposed changes in the report.[3]

Pre-Worboys sign flaws[edit]

The report found eight primary flaws in the United Kingdom's traffic signage.

(a) roadside signs are too small to be readily recognisable as such and to be easily read by drivers travelling at the normal speed of traffic;

(b) they do not have a simple, integrated appearance;
(c) the more important signs are not readily distinguishable from the less important at long range;
(d) they are often not effective at night;
(e) they are different from those used on the continent of Europe and only those who can read English can fully understand them;
(f) they are often mounted too high, particularly in rural areas;
(g) they are often badly sited in relation to junctions; and

(h) there is insufficient continuity of place names on directional signs.

— Worboys Committee, Traffic signs: report of the committee on traffic signs for all-purpose roads (1963)[5]

Most pre-Worboys signs consisted of two signs: the top one was one of four designs, a red 'triangle', 'disk', 'ring' or 'triangle in ring' that identified the sign's type; the second lower sign identified the hazard or restriction. The lower sign was approximately 1 foot 9 inches (21 in; 530 mm) tall and approximately 1–2 feet (12–24 in; 300–610 mm) wide. The majority also lacked any larger dimensions for use on higher-speed roads. The new Worboys designs for warning signs had a minimum height of 24 inches (610 mm), and three additional sizes:30 inches (2 ft 6 in; 760 mm), 48 inches (4 ft 0 in; 1,200 mm), 72 inches (6 ft 0 in; 1,800 mm)[a] for higher-speed roads or special situations that warranted a larger sign. Regulatory signs were 24 inches (610 mm), and greatly simplified through use of symbols eliminating wordy signs .[b][6]

"Traffic signs – 1963"[edit]

The Worboys Report

The report found existing road signs to be completely obsolete relative to increasing numbers of motor vehicles and motor vehicle speeds and made over a dozen key recommendations:[5]

  • Letters sizes should be increased compared to existing signs and up to 10 inches (250 mm) on high-speed roads. Letters should also be Sentence case, not in all capital letters.
  • Signs should reflect the design of traffic signs used in the rest of Europe, with an emphasis on using symbols and the shape of sign to convey the message, not words. Further, doing away with the previous standard sign designs consisting of two separate signs to form a complete sign.
  • Provision of Give way and stop signs at junctions on minor roads when they meet primary routes.
  • More usage of sign illumination, and improvements to existing standards and increased use of Cat's eyes (roadway reflectors).
  • Uniformity in the deployment and use of traffic signs.
  • Clearer marking of primary routes, through use of colour coded signs to aid drivers in identifying them if they are unfamiliar with an area.
  • Direction signs should be colour coded, with primary routes having green signs with white words and yellow route numbers. Non-priority roads should be black and white.

The report suggested approximately 136 signs [c] The designs proposed in the report were received further revisions before the 1964 TSRGD, as the proposed prohibited signs featured a 'slash' on signs like 'Buses prohibited', 'All motor vehicles prohibited'; a minimum speed limit sign that was not included; a rectangular 'Pass either side' sign; and the designs of symbols, like 'telephone' and 'opening bridge ahead'.

Examples of Pre- and Post-Worboys Committee traffic signs[7][6]
Pre-Worboys sign Type of sign Meaning Sign number[d] Worboys Committee sign
Pre-Worboys - Cross Roads - Complete Assembly - 1944.svg
Cross roads ahead
UK traffic sign 504.1 (1965-1975).svg
Pre-Worboys - Ford - Complete Assembly - 1944.svg
UK traffic sign 554.svg
Pre-Worboys - Road Works Ahead - 1944.svg
Road works ahead
UK traffic sign 7001.svg
UK - No Entry (pre-Worboys).svg
No Entry
UK traffic sign 616.svg
Pre-Worboys - No Right Turn - Complete Assembly - 1944.svg
No right turn
UK traffic sign 612.svg
Pre-Worboys - Turn Left - Complete Assembly - 1944.svg
Turn left
UK traffic sign 609.svg
Pre-Worboys - Keep Left - 1944.svg
Keep to left
UK traffic sign 610.svg
Pre-Worboys - Approach Direction Sign (Diagram 78) - 1944.svg
Approach direction sign for a junction where two Class 1 (A-roads) roads cross.
UK traffic sign 704.svg
Pre-Worboys - Direction Sign at Junction (Diagram 93) - 1944.svg
A direction sign used at junctions, indicating route numbers and primary destinations.
UK traffic sign 713.1.svg
(Primary route)
UK traffic sign 713.2.svg
(Non-primary route)

Consistency with motorway signs[edit]

In 1962, the Anderson Committee published Motorway Signs: Final Report of Advisory Committee for Traffic Signs on Motorways which laid out their designs for motorway signage.[8]

Ultimately, motorway directional and informational signs were included in the 1964 TSRGD. The warning and most regulatory signs proposed in the final Anderson report were not adopted for use,[e] and the designs proposed in the Worboys report were used instead in future motorway projects.[6]

Later revisions[edit]

A major review of the direction signing system conducted in the late 1980s found effectively no problems with the Worboys system. This review could only recommend the introduction of white-on-brown tourist signing and a few other minor changes. "Worboys was a world leader in good signing practice".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 72 inch signs were only prescribed for Junction and roadway narrows signs. Other warning signs were only prescribed up to 48 inches tall.
  2. ^ The 1944 weight restriction sign consisted of this message: "One vehicle only on bridge Maximum weight 15 tons speed limit 5 M.P.H.", on a sign that was about 2 feet (610 mm) square. The replacement, Sign 626, consisted of just "XX Tons" in a 24 inches (610 mm) circle, with an additional "Only one vehicle on bridge" plate if necessary.
  3. ^ This count excludes supplementing plates.
  4. ^ From the 1964 TSRGD. Some sign numbers have since changed.
  5. ^ The designs were often similar, with the consistent difference being the inclusion of words and colour scheme; A non-reflective red background, with a reflective red border that outlined the shape of the sign and a reflective white symbol.


  1. ^ "Hansard: Worboys Committee and New Traffic Signs". 3 July 1963. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  2. ^ "roads.org.uk". Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Origin of British road sign design". Design Museum. Archived from the original on 23 November 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  4. ^ "Hansard: Traffic Signs Committee Report". 13 March 1963. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  5. ^ a b Committee on traffic signs for all-purpose roads (Worboys Committee); Ministry of Transport (1963). "Traffic signs: report of the committee on traffic signs for all-purpose roads". Archive.org. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Ministry of Transport (20 November 1964). The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1964. Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
  7. ^ Ministry of War Transport (1946). Report of the Departmental Committee on Traffic Signs - 1944. Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
  8. ^ Advisory Committee on Traffic Signs for Motorways (Anderson Committee); Ministry of Transport (1962). "Motorway Signs: Final Report of Advisory Committee for Traffic Signs on Motorways". Archive.org. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  9. ^ "Roads.org.uk". Retrieved 24 October 2020.

External links[edit]