Monday, 9 March 2015

Vehicle Control Systems signage at Liverpool Airport

Today's post examines the signage at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, with grateful thanks to Esmerobbo who took photographs and made measurements.

Vehicle Control Systems try and pretend that anyone who drives into the airport enters into a contract to pay them £100 if they stop on the airport roads. Here are the signs they use.

The Prankster's first observation is that only the first sign contains the name of Vehicle Control Systems. As it is a general principle that you must know who you are contracting with it is the Prankster's view that only the top sign can form a contract.

Apparently the top sign is only at the entrance to the Airport, so this is the only chance VCS have of forming a contract with the driver.

Cut-off distance

A useful publication from the Department of Transport, 'Determination of x-height',  describes how font sizes are calculated on road signs. The first observation is that drivers must be able to read signs without moving their head more than 10% from the road. This is for safety reasons. Both the Independent Parking Committee and the British Parking Association agree with this in their respective code of practices.

The publication gives calculations to show how far away the sign is when the driver must turn their head back to the road. This is known as the 'cut off distance', C

The calculation is C = S x cotangent of 10 degrees = S x 5.7
S is the offset distance, defined as the distance from the centre of the driving lane to the centre of the sign. On dual carriageways this is measured from the centre of the right-hand-most lane.

As the road is a dual carriageway, this is given as (sign width /2) + distance from sign to road + 1.5 x width of one lane. Esmerobbo has kindly provided these distances as:
S = (.80/2) + 1 + 1.5 x (4) = 7.40m

This gives C = 7.40 x 5.7 = 42.18m.

The sign can therefore only safely be read from over 42m away. As the sign is placed 4.5m from a T-junction, it can never safely be read.

Reading Time

The next consideration to examine is the number of words on the sign. DfT guidelines state that a sign should contain no more than 6 words or directions. This is the number that can be scanned safely in 4 seconds. Any more than that and the driver's eyes are off the road for too long.

Reading time R is given as 2 + N/3 seconds, where N is the number of words or directions on the sign. 2 seconds are given for the eyes to settle on the sign and start reading.

The sign contains 66 words, not including the small print at the bottom. This will take 35 seconds to read.The only possible way to read the sign would be to stop at or just after the T-Junction, but this will be a breach of the alleged contract.

The first six words, and the ones in the biggest font, are 'RESTRICTED ZONE', No stopping at any...'.

To form a contract there must be a meeting of minds. For this to take place, the driver must not only have time to read the sign, but also time to consider and digest the contract and decide whether to accept or not. In a car park, the driver can do this at their leisure; typically the operator will give 5 minutes for the driver to consider any contract and decide whether to accept or not. it is obvious that there can be no meeting of minds if the driver does not have time to read the sign, let alone have time to consider it, especially when their main focus must be on driving safely and not considering the intricacies of contract law.

Font Size

The final consideration is font size. The small print disclosing the £100 charge has capitals 4cm high and lowercase letters 3cm high.

The eyesight standards for driving are here. They require a driver to read a 8cm number plate at a distance of 20m. This translates into being able to read 4cm letters at 10m, and 3cm letters at 7.5m.

The road has a 40mph speed limit. At 40mph a vehicle travels 18 meters a second. At this speed, the sign is readable for 4/10s of a second. Two seconds are needed for 'settle time' before any words can be read, so the small print is not readable,

However, the sign is just past the junction, so generously assuming the speed is only 10mph this gives 1.6 seconds to read the sign. Sadly even this is not enough to read a single word.

There also remains the impossible conundrum that the driver must stop reading the sign at a distance of 42m, but can only read the signs once they get 7.5m away.


We can go back to the DfT guidelines and find out what they would recommend. The distance travelled while reading the sign R is given as:
R = reading time x speed (meters per second)

For the maximum 6 words at 40mph, we get R = 4 x 18 = 72m.
The driver therefore starts reading the sign at 72+42m (114m) and stops reading at 42m.

To read the signage at 114m, the DfT calculation for lowercase letters (known as X-height) is (100/60) x 114 = 19cm

Each lowercase letter should therefore be 19cm high.

The actual size of the biggest lowercase letter is 6cm. Therefore the font is less than 1/3 of the required size.


  • Only one sign is capable of creating a contract
  • This sign is too close to the junction to be read safely
  • It contains eleven times the number of words which can be read safely
  • The smallest font can never be read safely
  • The biggest font is only 1/3 of the required size for vehicles travelling at the speed the road allows

In The Prankster's opinion, there is no possibility this sign can ever be said to form a contract with the driver, and the sign actually tempts drivers into unsafe driving practices, by making them turn their head too far from the road, and keeping their attention off the road for too long.

Happy Parking

The Parking Prankster


  1. The only thing that could be legitimately assumed is that you are on a red route' and there is no stopping at any time. Putting aside the thorny issue that the parking weasels are dressing private land up as a red route clearway, a statutory controlled red route provides that disabled blue badge holders may be set down or picked up and secondly that taxis can stop to pick up/drop off passengers.

    These two groups would likely be minded to stop and consequently earn themselves a sPeCulative iNvoice which, surprisingly, is dressed up like a statutory penalty charge notice. I can almost smell Patrick's trousers smouldering from here.

    1. Sorry but for most people who don't live in London, "red route" double lines probably don't mean anything...

  2. Superb summation PP. And kudos to esmerobo for the 'Sherlock Holmes'.

    This should be copied verbatim to any IAS appeal. I somehow suspect that it will be met with a 'We have seen this a number of times, informed via Internet sites; this appeal has no merit ......' or similar.

    Still needs to be tested. Great work PP/esmerobbo

  3. Well done PP!!! I could not have expressed it as well as you do.

    But in the case of ANPR cameras ONLY those terms on any sign that the motorist can 'register' before a contract is made. (i.e when the photo is taken by the entry camera) can be part of the contract. It is therefore doubtful that for many ANPR controlled parking systems, any sensible contract can be made.

    1. I don't think this is how it works. The contract is not entered into when the camera takes the picture of the entering car. The contract is entered into when the car is parked and left there for a reasonable amount of time. Of course, the entry/exit camera system assumes that there is a negligible amount of time between those two points, but sometimes there isn't - and for all intents and purposes, contractually all signs which could be "registered" by a driver whilst driving around the premises looking for a parking space and before leaving the car there, might be incorporated into the contract, as long as they were indeed readable.

    2. Since the time on both cameras indicate how long the motorist has stayed by using the difference in the timings, these times registered are part of the supposed contract. If they are not how has anyone overstayed? Indeed these times are sent to the motorist on the PCN to prove the overstay
      . If the contract starts when the motorist actually parks and leaves his car the time registered by the cameras is irrelevant since the time is not necessarily related to the parking event, as you point out. Take for example other time based contracts such as motor insurance it would useless for me to protest that the contract actually took place when I received the contract as opposed to the date and time stated on the contract. Bear in mind also if the insurance company relied in the contract on a particular time in the contract BUT I was not aware of the time information in the contract the contract would be null and void since both parties must have an 'equal' view of the contract and there cannot be any hidden terms. Similarly in relying on the timing in the 'parking contract' the parking company is privy to these time values but I am not. The contract is therefore one sided. The only time I am made aware of these timings is if I am sent a PCN but before that I have no knowledge of them -since I don't know when the shutter on the camera was triggered.The parking company relies on these timings however to enforce the contract so thus they must be part of the contract.

    3. I still don't think that's correct I'm afraid. The time at which the contract starts will definitely be the one when the act of parking starts, not when the entering the land happened. Otherwise it wouldn't be a contract for parking, but one for entering the land. Coincidentally, I think some PPCs used to call their signs "contract for entering the land" but then realised what this caused and then changed it to "contract for parking". The fact that the car is photographed when entering/leaving the land doesn't matter in so far as the contract itself is concerned. It is instead used as "evidence" to show an overstay has happened. Hence why it can in some instances be a good defence that there is significant time between the duration of parking and the duration between entering/exiting the land.

    4. The contract does not necessarily start when the car is parked.

      Please see the analysis by Lord Denning in Thorton versus The Shoe Lane Parking Company. In that case it was when the ticket was issued that the contract was formed. Every different 'parking process' will have a different point at which the contract was 'concluded'. He also makes the point that only those conditions known to the motorist when the contract was concluded apply. Thus, if as you say, the contract was concluded when the motorist parked? left his car? and he hadnot had any conditions drawn to his attention by that point there would be no contract.


    oF COURSE iirc THE LAND DOESN'T FALL UNDER pofa [oops] it's got bye-laws/etc?? So isn't that the easiest way of dealing with a popla APPEAL

    1. VCS have moved to the IPC because POPLA kept ruling against them. The IPC appeals system puts the burden of proof on the motorist, contrary to the way the law works.

  5. Even were the fonts & wording & business address all present & correct on the signs what exactly is the contract being offered by VCS? The driver has an implied licence from the landowner to drive on the approach road to the terminal building as how else are passengers to reach the terminal building?

  6. If someone had an accident, sorry RTC... while reading this signage I think we could see an interesting test case. Unfortunately I recently asked RoSPA Road Safety (on twitter) on their thoughts about a BPA statement that in a small car park 2 mins was enough grace period to park, read and understand a sign and then return to the car and leave if they decided that the T&C's were unacceptable... And they declined to comment saying, "@clive1234 @BritishParking Unfortunately not in a position to comment". My question was based on an able bodied person, not a disabled driver or parent with baby / toddler(s)...

    I asked the POPLA oversight board the same question (at the suggestion of BMPA) and raised another issue,Nick Randle responded saying, "Dear Mr Elsdon, Thank you for your email. The Independent Scrutiny Board for Parking Appeals on Private Land is the regulator for POPLA the independent Appeals service for BPA approved operators. We can consider policy issues relating to POPLA appeals although not individual cases. We do not, I’m afraid, currently have a wider remit to consider issues in the parking sector such as yours."

    So who can we ask when we have these questions on reasonableness and safety? No one seems to want to help... Yet when a driver crashes trying to get out of a car park within a grace period (which he probably has no written information on so how can it be part of the contract?), or trying to read one of these signs they will have the wrath of the law on them and an insurance implication for a number of years!

  7. Please see:

  8. I linked that in the article, but it was not obvious :-(

  9. All of the responses so far are worthy of posting, however there remains the big 2 killers.
    First of all, as has been pointed out, VCS is operating on land which is governed by byelaws thus isn't within PoFA.
    I still have a fund set up to fight the 1st court action taken on this very point. It's been a while but I'm sure all the pledges will still be good.

    The 2nd important point is that there can be no contract which gives agreement to a contractual breach. The payment of an agreed amount to breach the flawed conditions would need to offer something. There's no way VCS can offer a driver the opportunity to park on the road that it strictly forbids parking on.

    The whole meaning of their "parking agreement" is supposedly to keep the roads clear for emergency purposes.

  10. I know this is a long time ago but can anyone tell me exactly when this sign was put up. Also when exactly did the double yellow lines change to double red lines.
    I have an old pcn and have been sent this photo in evidence but I am sure it wasn't there at my time.

    1. Email me with the date of the event.