Adverse camber and soft verges

Volume 16, Issue 9; 24 Sep 2013

Really, the title says it all, doesn't it? Challenge to my non-UK readers: guess what this essay is about before reading further.

When asking for directions, it is always better to ask someone who has been down the road before.

The iconography of road signs is, generally, self-explanatory. Not perfectly, of course, if you haven't been told, you have to infer from context that a round sign with a number in it is a speed limit in England. You might eventually infer that a circular white sign with black “/” is the “end of limit” sign, returning the road to it's national default speed limit (if you knew what that was!). Whether you could work out that a circular blue sign with a red “X” means “no stopping” is anyone's guess.

But lots of signsLove Traffic signs. are obvious: turns and road junctions of various sorts, traffic circles, animal crossings, bicycle traffic, men working, etc. Even “migratory toad crossing” (I kid you not). Some of the signs are for things we simply don't mark in the United States, like “countdown markers”. (“///” about 300 yards [meters —ed?] before an exit, “//” about 200 yards before, and “/” about 100 yards before.)

The words on signs, however, are idiomatic and consequently subject to the vagaries of culture. I happen to know what a “verge” is, perhaps because my mother is English. In the US, that sign would read “soft shoulder”.

But what the effin' heck does “adverse camber” mean?

The first time I encountered it, the sign said nothing more than “adverse camber” and “maximum speed 30mph” [I thought the Brits did metric? Nevermind —ed]. The next time, it was accompanied by a “right turn” arrow.

In connection with the context, and having looked up the sign, I now understand the warning. This was a dual carriageway [divided highway —ed] under construction. One entire section was closed and “southbound” traffic was being directed to one of the lanes normally reserved exclusively for northbound traffic. If you're driving the “wrong way” on a road, then it's possible that the road is going to be banked the wrong way, the very meaning of adverse camber. I say possible because I can't quite see why that should be the case, but I think that's what I was being warned about.

Had I not seen “adverse camber”, my favorite traffic sign so far would certainly be the warning “oncoming traffic in center of road.” That's certainly something I appreciate being warned about, not that I saw any such traffic.

A few other random thoughts about driving on the other side of the pond.

  • Despite not having driven a standard transmission for several years, it came back to me easily. My clutch control in first gear probably looks a bit amateurish, but I have neither burned the clutch nor stalled it. Neither have I stalled by forgetting to depress the clutch when braking.

    Shifting with my left hand was not as much of a challenge as I expected.

    Neither is driving on the left hand side of the road. I tend to be a little too far left, a little closer to that verge than is advisable, but I'm working on it.

  • So far, out in the country, no where near The City, drivers have been uniformly polite. This is probably a necessity in a country where effectively single lane roads with occasional little turn outs are considered perfectly reasonable. When you see an oncoming car, you have to negotiate who's going to pull off and let the other pass. It seems to work just fine.

    In the United States, I can only imagine two SUVs, bumper-to-bumper between turnouts, each driver leaning on the horn screaming obscenities. That, and lots of head on collisions.

  • On small, less travelled roads, roundabouts are totally the right thing: far superior to the four-way-stop we use in the United States. On larger roads, they work reasonably well, though I confess, I'm not sure I've worked out the finer points of which lane I'm supposed to be in. When traffic circles get big enough to require traffic lights, I think maybe they're a bit sub-optimal.

  • On traffic lights, the transition sequence green → amber → red in one direction and red → red+amber → green in the other is vastly superior to a simple red → green transition.

  • Shout out to “Google Navigate”. On the drive down, I had seen a real traffic snarl going the other way on the A14. I assumed it would be all cleared up by the time I was returning, but I turned on navigation anyway, to guide me through the local roads back to the highway. Google took me a different way and I was shortly able to see glimpses of the A14 from the parallel road I was on: still a parking lot. Thank you, navigation!

  • Turning left is easy. Turning right requires a lot more concentration: turn right, but stay left.

  • Big “A” roads look a lot like US highways, but they're not. There are crossroads, pedestrian crossings, mad cyclists, and occasionally tractors and other farm equipment rolling along on them. Stay left and watch out.

Really, my biggest concern is fatigue. It's a solid two hour drive down to the hospital where my mom is recovering from cardiac surgery (she's recovering nicely, no reason to be concerned). By the time I'm nearing the end of the return journey, the light is fading, I'm probably a little hungry, and my concentration just isn't as good as it was when I started in the morning.

I'm confident of my driving skills as long as I'm paying attention. I'm less confident that my subconscious motor skills would do the right thing in a crisis. In fact, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't. So I take it easy.


"Camber" is the variation in the height of the roadbed, taken across it. On a straightaway, a properly cambered road is high in the middle and low on the sides, so that rainwater runs onto the shoulder or the gutters as the case may be. On a curve, proper camber requires the outside of the curve to be higher than the inside. You can see this if you look at race tracks, where the camber is extreme enough to be visible to the naked eye.

"Adverse camber" signs warn you that the road is not properly cambered, and you should slow down to avoid slipping, skidding, running off the road, and Other Unfortunate Events.

—Posted by John Cowan on 25 Sep 2013 @ 12:42 UTC #

Camber - slope? Adverse, agin ya. So you're going round a left bend, cambering away to your right.... Wet conditions make it dodgy? Hence the warning.

"bumper-to-bumper between turnouts". I guess that's a turning... or is it a passing spot?

—Posted by Dave Pawson on 25 Sep 2013 @ 06:58 UTC #

Dave: Passing spots, yes. The term turnout comes from railroading.

—Posted by John Cowan on 03 Oct 2013 @ 06:05 UTC #

You did read the Highway code..? See Traffic Signs.

- and beware of Rising Bollards.

—Posted by Danny on 04 Oct 2013 @ 09:57 UTC #

I posted a link to your piece over on Facebook, Nick Gibbins commented : "Tch. And not a word of praise for Jock Kinnear or Margaret Calvert."

He has a point, it's a good story

—Posted by Danny on 04 Oct 2013 @ 10:17 UTC #