19 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Time to Work On Road Signs


Driving along South Africa's roads is always a hectic experience for most Zimbabwean motorists. The presence of numerous offshoots, four-way stop signs, bridges and sleek, fast-moving vehicles makes it difficult for foreign travellers to negotiate the roads.

It is quite easy to get lost on the South African roads, but on the upside, motorists cannot drive for a distance longer than a hundred metres before realising that they are driving in the wrong direction, especially when in or around towns.

South African roads are well illustrated by large neon blue informative signs. The visual elements are a permanent feature on the roads and contribute towards the overall appearance of the South African outdoor scenery.

They help to provide information relevant for the road users and the blue is a cool, stabilising colour also found on the country's flag and merging well with the sky blue in the background.

It is rather strange that right next door to the north, Zimbabwe is failing to provide its motorists with adequate road information.

Visual information on the roadsides and overhead are the only forms of communication between the roads and its users.

And when a message is poorly packaged, as is the case with rusty or obstructed signs, then there isalways a communication breakdown.

Along most Zimbabwe highways, there is a serious lack of visual information to help the motorists.

It is difficult to determine distance travelled between one city and another because the signs may no longer be there or were never there in the first place.

When approaching a town, a motorist may be warned to keep the speed below a certain limit, but in some instances, especially along the Harare-Mutare highway, information to indicate that the restrictions have been lifted is never given. Surely it cannot be that difficult to punctuate Zimbabwe's roads with information that could mean the difference between life and death.

Metal sheets, poles and paint can constitute a very reasonable budget and it is a wonder why road users are starved of information while travelling.

The old information signs on the highways were mounted 20 kilometres apart on brick and plaster structures, but few remain on the roadsides.

A communications company added their own signs right next to the old ones, but a few years later, the poor quality of the materials used and vandalism have taken their toll.

Zimbabwe's authorities responsible for roads administration and usage should come up with a fresh plan for information to filter through to road users and ensure safety and reliability.

South Africa uses blue and white to pass information to travellers and Zimbabwe could use green and white to do the same. Green is one of Zimbabwe's dominant colour and its use on the national flag is iconic.

It is linked to food security, vegetation in general and the agrarian reform. As a nationally significant colour, its meaning and appearance is immediately apparent to anyone.

Green is used by a Zimbabwean political party as its visual representation. Whenever it is used in the country, it carries with it nationalistic values and meaning.

It is also the colour that represents growth, renewal and birth. Emotionally, green emits positive vibrations and is a symbol of nature. The significance of green signposts along roads is that they gel well with their surroundings, providing a relaxing and natural feel for motorists.

With the lucid, white, computer-generated text and images interrupting the "natural" green flow, communication could not be clearer as only the textual and visual information is highlighted.

The fonts for use on informative road signs should be simple, rounded, legible and thick to allow road users to digest the data even when travelling at high speeds.

Their colour allows for the information to be as clear and as bright as possible. It is apparent that on Zimbabwean roads, there is very little sharing of visual information.

Just about everyone would admit to having a very uncomfortable encounter with a speed hump at night because the information that says it is present is not provided. Travelling on the road at any speed is dangerous and the levels of potential horror are raised by the absence of guiding information on the sides.

Without adequate visual representations on Zimbabwe's roads, travelling even during the day feels like moving in darkness.

Of course, a lot of accidents in the country are a result of either human error or mechanical fault, but lack of information may be a significant factor too.

There are lots of potential hazards on Zimbabwean roads including dangerous drivers, uneven surfaces, slippery planes and stationery vehicles.

It is therefore important that the hazards that are easy to eliminate, such as provision of informative signposts are addressed so that the loss of innocent lives are greatly reduced.

Moving from point A to B should be less nervy and a lot easier.

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