Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Word to the Unwise

Beware of Adders, 1989

Leave it to the British to civilize even safety warning signs.

On our first visit to England many years ago, my wife and I couldn’t figure out what the discreet signs along walkways meant when they said “It is inconsiderate to foul the verge” until we finally saw one that also had a pictogram of a dog doing what little children refer to as “#2.”

In America, subway PA systems squawk safety warnings at you about staying on the platform side of the yellow line as if you’re first-graders (or as if you can actually understand what they’re saying). The Atlanta Airport underground tram even makes zapping sounds right out of Star Wars if you step too close to a rail car door when it’s getting ready to close. But anyone who’s been in a Tube station in London will at least have initially been charmed by signs politely advising you to “Mind the Gap.”

In America, it seems we have to be tougher. Texas created the “Don’t Mess with Texas” to deal with twenty-something, pickup truck-driving bubbas who litter. In Washington State, as I’ve noted here before, the took it a step further with signs along the highway that read, “If You Litter It Will Hurt.” Ouch!

I’ve had my own hand in designing some of the more obnoxious safety pictograms in your life; for example, those pesky seat belt and air bag pictograms that are plastered on the backside of your sun visors if you own a car manufactured since 1993. I’m the guy who told the Department of Transportation and child car seat manufacturers that you’re more likely to fasten your child into a properly installed and fastened child safety seat if the little chartreuse-and-black safety pictogram on the side of the child’s car seat shows the seat actually breaking apart in an accident.

My favorite British safety warning sign, though, is the one above. (Click on it to see it larger.) We came upon it in Southwest England in 1989 in the parking area for a traveling country fair, a place where you'd assume there'd be a lot of families with children. It advised us—you could almost hear one of those dignified BBC announcers saying it out loud—that, “IT IS UNWISE TO PICNIC HERE. BEWARE of ADDERS.” Which, if you’re not up on your reptile vocabulary, means venomous snakes.


  1. OMG! You have to wonder if some poor picnickers were the guinea pigs who prompted that sign.

    So you're the guy, eh?

  2. Chris, I'm sure I saw that very same sign in 1984 when I was there with my mom. She painted a little watercolor of the sign. We laughed about that one! Our other favorite sign in SW England was for the "King Harry Ferry".

  3. Hope there are elections soon to kick the bums out.