Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Vehicle Control Systems signage at Liverpool Airport...update

The Prankster previously blogged about the signage at Liverpool Airport. Since the blog, the signage has been updated.

Today's post examines the new signage at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, with grateful thanks to Esmerobbo who once again 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. The Prankster's first observation is that the first sign and the repeater signs 50 yards down the road contain the name of Vehicle Control Systems, as do one added sign near the free drop off entrance and another on the roundabout as you leave the airport. As it is a general principle that you must know who you are contracting with it is the Prankster's view that only these signs can form a contract.

Cut-off distance

A useful publication from the Department of Transport, 'Determination of x-height' is available at this link. It 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.

The road in question is a dual carriageway. There are now signs on both sides of the road. The DfT publication is silent on whether the driver can turn their head to the right as well as the left and whether this is a safe practice. The Prankster will therefore give the signage the benefit of the doubt and assume the 10 degree head angle can be to either side.

S is therefore given as (sign width /2) + distance from sign to road + 0.5 x width of one lane. Esmerobbo has kindly provided these distances as:
S = (.80/2) + 1 + 0.5 x (4) = 3.40m

This gives C = 3.40 x 5.7 = 19.38m.

The sign can therefore only safely be read from around 20m away. Any closer and the head angle is not safe for driving. As the first sign is placed 4.5m from a T-junction, it can never safely be read. There are repeater signs around 50m from the junction, so these can be safely read.

Reading Time

The next consideration 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 62 words, not including the small print at the bottom. This will take 23 seconds to read. The sign also contains several graphics, some of which also contain words. The only possible way to read the sign would be to stop on the road, but this will be a breach of the alleged contract.

The first six words, are 'No Stopping £100 CHARGE IF YOU...'. The ones in the biggest font, are 'N Stopping PRIVATE PROPERTY £100 CHARGE'

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 main 'NO STOPPING' is 11cm, the sub headings are 4cm and the main writing is 3.5cm.

The small print disclosing the £100 charge is therefore 4cm 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.

The road has a 40mph speed limit. At 40mph a vehicle travels 18 meters a second. The font becomes readable at 20m away, and the sign is passed around one second later. Two seconds are needed for 'settle time' before any words can be read. The small print is therefore not readable; by the time the driver's eyes have settled, the sign has been passed.

There also remains the impossible conundrum that to drive safely the driver must stop reading the sign at a distance of 19.38m, but can only read the signs once they get 10m away. Thus, the signs are never safely readable.


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.

The first  sign is 5m from the junction and therefore not within the  42-114m range
The repeater signs are 50m from the junction. They are within the 42-114m range, but only just, and are so only readable for about 8m (about 1/2 second at 40mph)

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 uppercase letter is 11cm. Therefore the biggest font is less than 1/2 of the required size.

The font hiding the parking charge is a tiny 4cm in size. This is about 1/5 of the required size.


Only a few signs are capable of creating a contract
The first sign is too close to the junction to be read safely
The repeater signs are also too close to the junction to have enough time to read

The signs contains ten times the number of words which can be read safely
The smallest font hiding the charge can never be read safely
The biggest font is only 1/2 of the required size for vehicles travelling at the speed the road allows
The small font hiding the charge is about 1/5 of the required size
The biggest font is only readable once the vehicle is too close for the driver to safely turn their head.
The biggest font is only readable for 1 second by a driver with legal eyesight travelling at the speed limit.

In The Prankster's opinion, there is no possibility these signs can ever be said to form a contract with the driver, and the signs actually tempt 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.

The Prankster considers that VCS should have consulted with him regarding the signage. He would have told them where to put it. Instead, they have forked out a load of money for no benefit.

This week VCS chickened out of a court case regarding Liverpool Airport, despite the fact that the barristers used by the Independent Appeals Service have regularly argued that deficient signage like this can form a contract.

The Prankster will wait and see whether they go all the way with a case with this new signage.

Happy Parking

The Parking Prankster


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. So, if you stopped and got out of your car to read the sign you would no that stopping to read the sign makes you liable for the charge. Neat.

    Are speed limit signs enforceable on private property?

  3. all very well , however VCS are a member of a ATA for PARKING not stopping , and as such have no right to get your details from the DVLA.
    and this is on land that comes under airport bylaws that have not been superseded , strike two.

    1. Totally agree.
      PoFA doesn't give authority for charging RK's for stopping.
      No wonder they chickened out of court.
      In fact I want to know if they bring another case as I have a load of £15 pledges to assist in fighting it in court.

    2. and as its on airport land (bylaws) they cannot use POFA 2012 , or use the DVLA for access. trespass perhaps? but only JLA could pursue court
      anyone receiving a NTK needs to contact the DVLA and complain , this is PROSERVE Mk 2

    3. The really big elephant in the room on the trespass issue is:
      You can't be trespassing on land which you're invited to cross as part of the landowners business offers

    4. The landowner can make conditions on crossing though. Ransomes Park v Anderson is probably the highest judgment on this with regards to vehicles stopping.

    5. well Ransomes v Anderson , makes VCS look stupid , as noted above , no parking took place , however if they wish to pursue stopping , then based on the figures of £11.21 + £9.67, or a total of £20.88. we see a sudden problem , VCS already pay the landowner (who is bringing the trespass charge) £25,000 per year

    6. and WHY are the DVLA allowing the sale of keepers details using access via a PARKING ATA , when the charges are for stopping , not parking

    7. Clauses B2, and B2 (a) and (b) in the KADOE agreement detailing the purposes for which RK data can be obtained specifically mention parking only. No references to stopping at all. In my view, this potentially constitutes hundreds of DPA breaches going back to when VCS (and others) started doing this at airports.

    8. can this comment regarding the clauses required for KODOE in regard to VCS/JLA be made a "stickie" at MSE , pepipoo and other sites? along with the correct address and contact at the DVLA , maybe repeated enquiries may get them to take notice and act

  4. Very good PP - I couldn't have put it better myself ;-)

    1. The scientific research, upon which the signage measurement is based, was done by the Road research Laboratory in the 1960's (Moore & Christie 1963). This is the definitive paper on road signage and the ability of the motorist to absorb the information. Many countries round the world base their signage on this scientific paper. It would be interesting to see this research used in court in the context of signage in private car parks.

    2. I googled this and sadly found plenty of references but not the actual paper

    3. Recently Chelmsford City Council were asked by the DFT(?) to modify/remove signs on the road at the entrances to the city as they did not conform to the standards based on this paper. They had too many words on them, and had motorists spent the necessary time to scan them, it could have been dangerous.

      Whether this has been resolved I don't know.

  5. The sign doesn't say if it applies to cars, pedestrians, cyclists.... Just that you can't stop.

    It's almost worth accidentally breaking down and stopping all traffic. Think of the fines VCS!


  6. If there is no stopping on red routes (defined as?), double yellow lines (where unless there are kerb markings the normal meaning is that stopping can be allowed in some circumstances) or roadways or bus stops, the average motorist is going to be very confused that there are 4 different road markings (or lack thereof) which mean exactly the same thing, but do not seem to mean what they mean on public highways.

    Also, it raises the question of whether you are allowed to take avoiding action if a VCS patrolman steps out in front of you without looking.

  7. The sign itself doesn't convey the message that you are entering into a contractual arrangement either. It doesn't suggest you may stop for payment of a fixed sum, and in fact presents itself as a deterrent.
    PENALTY is screaming at you.

  8. Basically, if you can read this sign, you are trespassing - that will be £100 please !

  9. Well the next case maybe me as today I received a letter from Zzps having received no other communication from VCS regarding any so called breach of their parking restrictions. I'm calling up Wednesday to take pictures which will be a 100 mile round trip as I'm sure there was no signage as I turned off towards drop off 2 but it was 5:30am and raining badly and was the first time I'd ever been to the airport.

  10. Well prankster the next case maybe me, here's the circumstances;
    Hello I have received a letter from Zzps today saying they are acting on behalf of vehicle control services stating that I broke parking restrictions at John Lennon airport on the 29/09/15 at 05:43. It states I stopped on the roadway which I didn't there was a locked gate with a large entrance and that is where I stopped off the roadway for a maximum of 1min to let my son out of the car. It was dark and raining heavily and saw no signs to indicate I couldn't stop and this was the first time I had been their. I have received NO other communication from any parking company prior to receiving this letter!.The charge is £150 at present

  11. Do you have a picture/copy of the signs at JLA September 2012 and before?