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GEM calls for councils to cut down foliage which obscures road signs

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Local authorities need to tackle the problem of road signs being obscured by trees, bushes and branches, which, at best, is a nuisance for drivers and, at worst, can be misleading and dangerous, according to GEM Motoring Assist.

David Williams, chief executive of GEM said: “Road signs provide vital orders and information for drivers, who choose their speeds and actions based on what the signs tell them.

"If they can’t see the signs, then their ability to make safe decisions is compromised, especially if they’re on unfamiliar roads.

“In the name of road safety, we therefore call on local authorities to organise some far-reaching cutbacks of trees, bushes and branches, so that speed limit and other signs are made as clear as possible to everyone using their roads.”

GEM encourages drivers to report obscured road signs to the appropriate local authority, and to remember that a limit of 30mph usually applies to all traffic on all roads with street lighting, unless there are signs to say otherwise.

Court decisions

GEM has assembled some examples of prosecutions in which attempts were made to use obscured road signs as a defence:

  • Caspar James was caught in July 2013 driving at 43mph in a 30mph section of the A143 in Suffolk. After being found guilty of speeding at Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court in January, James successfully appealed the conviction at Ipswich Crown Court. He used evidence from an arboriculturist to prove the road sign was obscured by foliage, making it unfair to prosecute.  
  • In March 2013, Julian Sandiford pleaded not guilty to driving at 36mph in a 30 zone, arguing that warning signs leading up to a speed camera on the A1074 in Norwich were obscured by trees. District Judge Peter Veits agreed that the signs were covered by foliage but he questioned why the driver did not see a 30mph sign on the right-hand side of the city-bound road which was not covered by bushes and trees. Sandiford’s appeal was rejected. 
  • On July 4, 2005, John Coombes was detected speeding on a road in Somerset. He was convicted and fined £250 with £150 costs. He took his appeal to Bristol Crown Court, where it was rejected. However, two High Court judges threw out his conviction after hearing how his view of the speed limit had been obscured by an overgrown hedge. The judges also ruled that his legal costs (believed to run into tens of thousands of pounds) should be reimbursed from public funds.  
  • Anthony Hemmings, 52, from Bromley Heath, Bristol, successfully argued that a £60 fine was unlawful because a 50mph sign had been hidden behind a tree branch.


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