“With my experience in public consultation gained over the years, I have become acutely aware that very often the engineering profession takes the public’s understanding of the application of engineering measures for granted.
Many years ago, while attending a mobile public exhibition showing proposals for a town-wide safety project I noticed an elderly lady staring at an exhibit. I wandered over and asked if she had any comments. She replied that she was trying to understand the drawing. I started to explain what the various lines and symbols meant and how they were related to the existing layout. Soon I had a sizeable crowd around followed by a series of questions. It became apparent that none of the crowd could understand any of the drawings but were religiously attending the exhibition out of a mixture of curiosity and duty, too shy or scared or not wanting to show their ignorance to enquire about the drawings on show.
I vowed there and then to ensure that if ever I was involved in a public consultation procedure to produce exhibits which the general public could understand. No more engineering drawings but digitally edited photographs to show what the end product would look like. Perspective drawings would replace plans in order to give a more realistic representation. Whether it's a photograph, picture or drawing, colour and texture would be an integral part of any artefact, together with plain English descriptions of the measures and their justification.
This misunderstanding has often led to situations where the public, particularly the variety of road users, do not use the highway correctly or as safely as intended. For example, very few drivers know the subtle difference between lane markings and hazard warning markings or even know what the use of the latter implies. A recent poll has shown an amazing ignorance on the part of road users of the meaning of basic warning and informatory traffic signs.
Far too often, direction signs contain far too much information for the average driver to absorb. The public’s perception of signing and carriageway markings is often quite different to how the traffic engineer envisages their application and, in many cases, quite different to they were intended to be interpreted. We, as a profession, have for too long assumed that the public regard the use of signs in the same context as ourselves.
My company takes this apparent difference seriously and aim to set standards of design and implementation which are easy and more obvious for the road user to understand and hence use in a safe and reliable manner.”
- Lance Fogg, BSc(Hons) DMS, CEng, MICE, FCIHT, FSoRSA | Founder and Director of Arena Associates Ltd