The electronic message signs on English motorways could soon turn multi-lingual in a bid to help foreign lorry drivers.

If a new pilot scheme in Cumbria is successful, we could soon see signs flicking between up to nine different foreign languages, depending on the registration of the vehicle approaching. Using camera technology, the system can identify the nationality of the oncoming vehicle, then change the sign to the appropriate language.

For example, a sign that read "M6 J4 closed" would change to "M6 J4 cerrado" if it detected a Spanish-registered vehicle approaching. The sign could also switch to one of German, French, Polish, Romanian, Dutch, Lithuanian, Slovak or Hungarian, depending on the nationality of the vehicle.

Slow down side wind traffic warning sign in Carlisle Cumbria England

At present, the multi-lingual signs are only operational along the A66 and A69 to service a roundabout at junction 44 of the M6, north of Carlisle. There £7 million has been invested in making changes to the road, and the signs have been placed to warn drivers about the overnight junction closures. It’s believed to be the first time electronic signs have been used in this way to get information to continental truckers.

Highways England senior project manager Steve Mason said the organisation introduced the pilot scheme after listening to feedback from police in the north of England.

DHL lorry on British motorway M1 in Luton UK

“We’re a listening and learning organisation and we’re determined to improve the way customers get roadworks information,” he said. “We carried out major improvements along the A66 near Penrith last year and while the communications and diversion routes worked well, we had some feedback from Cumbria Police that foreign lorry drivers were missing some of the messaging. This not only inconvenienced the drivers but also local communities as we had lorries on inappropriate diversion routes. We’ve taken that learning on board and hopefully providing tailored messaging for foreign lorry drivers will improve everyone’s experience of these roadworks.”

Motorway gantry sign reading caution freezing conditions

Meanwhile, Inspector Steve Minnikin, from Cumbria Police, said the new system would help reduce delays and inconvenience for foreign HGV drivers.

“We provided a lot of support around the A66 closures last year and we’re delighted to see that Highways England has responded to our feedback by trialling this idea by being more aware of language differences and being considerate in meeting their needs,” he said. “We all believe this will assist the lorry drivers from other countries in rescheduling their journeys and avoid driving into a road closure with all the inconvenience that it can cause themselves and others.”

Lorry passing motorway services roadworks cones