Dear RTA

There’s a mess of traffic that happens in the afternoon rush, while we are squeezed out of the city, over the Sydney Harbour bridge and onto the freeway. Sydney-siders will know what I’m talking about. It’s dusk, people are tired, and everyone in the far left of the zillion-laned freeway suddenly needs to swap places with everyone on the far right. Things tend to move fast and moods are on a hair trigger. There’s not much time for reading.

Is this the right time and place to put a big flashing yellow sign, demanding by its very big-flashing-yellowness to be read, that says:



I looked wildly around for the hapless horse-drawn carriage that had tripped some hidden camera and so triggered this dire warning. My naive reaction lasted only a second or so, before I realised its absurdity. But I remained puzzled. Luckily, I was on a bus. But there were tired, distracted motorists zooming all round, presumably undergoing equal puzzlement.

So why has this sign been forcing itself upon Sydney’s motorists for the last week? For those motorists who stick around long enough to read the sequel (and so risk a bash on the bumper from the equally puzzled person behind) an explanation follows:



Ah, so that’s it. But, dear RTA, please take a leaf from a technical writer’s handbook and consider your:

  • Audience. Do I and the other commuters really need to know what you’re telling us? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the freeway between Harbour Bridge and the Falcon Street offramp is a favourite haunt of the horse transport fraternity.
  • Timing: Do we need to know it now? Perhaps rush-hour should be left for rushing rather than for a leisurely reading session.
  • Emphasis: Is it really so urgent that it needs to be big and flashing and yellow?
  • Medium: Why should this be a road sign at all? Perhaps radio announcements, TV coverage and newspapers would have done the trick.
  • Content: If the message does have to be out there, make it short and informative rather than threatening and confusing. The second notice shown above would have been enough. If I’d seen that one first, I’d have known what it meant. And I didn’t need the first one at all.

After all, if I were moving a horse around I’d probably have to keep moving it for at least a while, rather than coming to a standstill in the middle of the freeway so as to avoid those heavy penalties.

(For non-Sydney-siders: ‘RTA’ is the Road Traffic Authority – which usually does a very good job but is in my opinion a bit too liberal with its signs.)


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 15 September 2007, in bits n bobs, technical writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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