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Why is Neon Signage Used on Motorways?

By: Simon McBride - Updated: 1 Aug 2015 | comments*Discuss
Why Is Neon Signage Used On Motorways?

Some of the most important signs on the roads are those that light up the UK motorway network. The signs we are going to talk about is the variable signage that is commonly used on the busiest parts of the network – information given on these is usually warning drivers of what is ahead – the signs can vary from a new speed limit that you cannot exceed due to the conditions or you could be warned that there are adverse weather conditions ahead.

These signs can be lit by neon gases or some use a system of dot matrix method to warn drivers of the hazards ahead or newer signs are lit by LEDs.

The use of neon is one of the most expensive ways to light up signs on the motorway network in the UK but it is also one of the brightest ways.

So What is Neon?

Neon is a gas that is used for signs, usually the gas is stored in a tube and gives a luminous glow which means that is has a bright glow and attracts the eye because it is so eye catching.

Where has Neon Come From?

The neon sign is an evolution from the Geissler tube, this was a glass tube invented by a German physicist and glassblower Heinrich Geissler in 1857.

The neon sign can be used for many different purposes but we will concentrate on its importance on the Britain's motorways.

First Common Usage

Neon was first commonly used as a source of lighting in France in the 1930s for general illumination. But it was found to be less energy efficient than halogen lighting and it was decided that due to its brightness that it would be better used more sparingly. This is how neon has come to be one of the most common ways of lighting information and hazardous signs on motorway gantries as it is so bright, powerful and eye-catching.

Development of Neon

With the boffins continuing the development of neon lighting, it moved on from street lighting to being adapted to lighting for signs. The signs were perfected to form text from a sprawl of coloured lines. Neon took off and was widely used in advertising and commercial signage. However the authorities looked at how attractive and eye-catching these signs were and developed them in the UK so that they could use them as an aid for driver's in the UK.

Variable Signs

Variable signs on the UK motorway road network are common on busy stretches and usually apply to only the lane that is signified by the overhead gantry. At times the instructions may apply to all lanes, especially if the variable warning sign is highlighting that there could be adverse weather ahead or that there may be a lane closed.

Neon lighting can be seen on various variable signs such as:

  • A change in speed limit
  • Leave motorway at next exit
  • Various lane closures
  • Adverse weather ahead – there may just be one word, for example: Fog, Ice, Snow
  • End of temporary restrictions
  • Move to adjacent lane (the arrow will point in what way you should go)

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Most of these are LED now, just so you know ;) The very oldest matrix signs you see on some isolated stretches of rural motorway may still be neon (or probably some other related gas, as that gives a pink glow rather than familiar yellowish tint), but only because it's not been worthwhile to replace them.
MrP - 1-Aug-15 @ 12:39 PM
There is a large amount of information when i read this article..thanks for sharing and this information Give me a great knowledge of what really matters to me, thanks..
Led Signs - 7-Jul-12 @ 2:24 AM
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