No doubt the engineers who designed the road signs had convinced themselves that a driver would see, and read, the word “FORM” before seeing the word “ONE”, and that that word would, in turn, be seen and read prior to the word “FORM”. The words never appear to me to read like this. Instead I have learned simply to associate the nonsensical “LANE ONE FORM” with the idea that two lanes of traffic merge at this point.
If the driver of a vehicle were travelling at a speed which was appropriately related to the distance separating the words along the length of the road, then it is obvious that the words would flash into view separately, and in succession, and would be seen in the order “FORM ONE LANE”. However, the necessary relationship between speed and separation does not appear to have been described anywhere that I have looked, and the distance that separates the words as they actually appear on Canberra roads appears, to me, to be absurdly short. Indeed, at the distance at which the words are separated, it would appear to be more sensible to write the instructions in the natural order, namely “FORM ONE LANE”. Nonetheless, my speculations are just that, and I have no empirical evidence to support my view. However, the problems posed by presenting stationary words to moving drivers raise some interesting research questions that might well be within reach of a psychology or engineering student, perhaps at honours or masters level.
Contributors: Angela O’Brien-Malone, Mark R. Diamond