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Villages go back in time to slow passing traffic

Report suggests bonfire of road signs in favour of subtler methods of discouraging speeding

In even the most picturesque of small towns and villages the urban clutter of traffic signs, road markings, traffic lights and speed cameras can ruin the view.

But could these aids to road safety actually encourage drivers to drive more quickly? That's the thinking behind an innovative report which tells local planners how small adjustments to their villages can help them to both retain their visual identities and to curb speed and road traffic accidents.

The methods outlined in the report, Traffic in Villages, suggest that with psychological nudges – a chalk goalpost drawing to indicate a school, or tables next to the street outside a café or a pub – drivers will react instinctively to their surroundings and slow down.

Some of the existing road signs and markings are also removed, to both slow down through traffic and to restore the character of the village to its pre-highway state. The psychology is similar to a supermarket carpark. If there are obvious signs of human activity – trolleys, shoppers, children and staff – no sane driver will go faster than, say, 20mph.

The report's author, Ben Hamilton-Baillie, has advised on a number of projects designed to improve traffic's relationship with pedestrians. He says the methods – which also include narrowing roads, having market stalls in the street and changing road surfaces – work because "what you're doing is welcoming the driver as part of the village. It appears to change the perception and expectations in the drivers' mind."

Drivers are actively encouraged to look at their surroundings and react appropriately to them, rather than passing through like "zombies".

The report was commissioned by Dorset Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty.