Just to be sure what we are talking about, these are the sort of illuminated signs that are supposed to warn you about problems ahead (the ones with the flashing lights) or just general advice (without the flashing lights). Examples of the former might be such things as 'Queue Ahead' or 'M1 closed after A46'. Examples of the latter might be 'Wear a seat belt' or 'Don't drive whilst tired'.
On the face of it, both of these categories appear useful. The problem is they are NOT - primarily because 90% of the warning signs are (a) inaccurate, (b) ambiguous, (c) out of date or (d) just plain WRONG! That 90% by the way is not just a number plucked from space, but is very close to what I have actually counted. Against this background of inadequacy, the 'general advice' signs just seem flippant. An aditional problem with the general signs is that from the moment you see that yellow gleam in the distance, ones anxiety levels increase - because all these signs increase stress. That is never good.
Let us work through some typical warnings:-
'QUEUE AHEAD' - often accompanied by an advisory speed limit on the overhead gantries such as '50', '40' etc. These are quite sensible - but the problem is that we can be warned of a 'Queue Ahead' up to 20 miles before we get there. This is just absurd and whilst getting plenty of warning is (probably) a good thing, getting too much warning is definitely a bad thing as it leads to complacency. In fact it is probably just this sort of complacency - and the assumption that 90% of the signs will be 'invalid' - that tends toward all of them being almost universally ignored.
'DELAYS Mx Jy-z' - a distance ahead would be useful. Similarly, 'DELAYS on Axyz after Bpqr' are no use whatsoever if there is no clue as to where the Axyz or Bpqr might be!
'LONG DELAYS...' = 'accident'. That does seems to be a reliable translation.
'INCIDENT...' - ie something's happened but we haven't a clue what or where. Completely useless - although the probability that your carriageway is only congested by queues of rubberneckers gazing at something on the other carriageway, is around 50%.
'LANE CLOSED' - but which? We are hardly ever told until we reach a queue. It would be *so* useful to know straight away. This should then give much needed time to start migrating across lanes as necessary.
'SLOW DOWN' - this is one of the most irritating of all. Eg. "I have slowed from 70mph to 69mph - and therefore have fully complied with the sign." Equally, "I have slowed from 60mph to 59mph - and therefore have also complied with the sign." No. This is not in the spirit of what was intended. 'SLOW' on the other hand is (relatively) unambiguous. 59 and 69 are not slow compared with either 60 or 70 - whereas 40, or even 50, might be. 'SLOW' or 'CAUTION' are the only meaningful options. 'SLOW DOWN' is just poor use of language - with correspondingly poor responses.
I could go on at greater length but I suspect any reader will have taken up the point that I am not impressed either, with the usefulness of these signs or, their implementation; and certainly not with their value for money. It is my contention that ONE well educated controller, with a deputy and a small number of directly administered operatives, supported by observers and reporters on cctv, should be able to look after the whole network at any one time. This is not the way it works though. Things are carved up by region and into short sections of road. This incidentally is why 'Active Traffic Management' - or 'Controlled Motorways in 'newspeak' - is no longer how it should be; but that's another article...