Traffic tech never looked so cool.

One of the most difficult things about driving on unfamiliar roads is making sense of the street signs, and in Japan they can be particularly confusing, especially when they include Japanese writing in small print, to indicate times and days when instructions apply.

So it’s come as a pleasant surprise to many in Japan that there are a few road signs that have the amazing ability to change automatically, making it much easier to understand the rules. In fact, a lot of Japanese people didn’t even know such signs existed, so when Twitter user Wakame Stem (@zTnX4X9UPinHF0y) posted a couple of videos showing them in action, they went viral and even made the national news.

This first video shows the moment a sign changes from “Closed to Large Trucks and Buses” to “No Vehicle Entry“.  The way it spins around as it changes is strangely mesmerising.

The automatic change from one sign to the other has blown people’s minds, not only for the awesomeness of the design, but also the thoughtfulness behind it. The reason it changes is due to the fact that the direction of traffic here changes at a certain time of day, and if you look at the intersection where it’s located below, you can see how confusing it would be to understand the road rules without the changing sign overhead.

▼ The changing sign is located in Aoba Ward, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture.

The blue-and-white road signs with arrows in the photo above come with tiny writing that states vehicles other than trucks and buses can proceed under the railway track between the hours of 6 and 9 a.m. After this time, no vehicles can proceed from this side, as it becomes a one-way thoroughfare from the other side of the railroad tracks.

That’s a lot of vital information in small print for an unfamiliar driver to process in the seconds it takes to read while driving, and a mistake could result in a serious accident. The large sign overhead, however, makes the rules much easier to understand, because it changes to a big “No Entry” sign at 9 a.m., helping to ensure safe passage for all drivers.

Surprisingly, this variable road sign isn’t the only one at this particular intersection, as Wakame Stem shared this video of a nearby sign that morphs from “30-kilometres-per-hour” (18.6 miles-per-hour) to show the designated directions permitted.

The changing sign appears by the side of the road in both directions to ensure approaching drivers don’t go under the railway tracks at the wrong time of day.

This clip — so unusual it made it to Japanese television — shows how the signs change on a timer within seconds of each other.

People online were gobsmacked by the signs, saying:

“Wow – I’ve driven on a lot of roads and I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“Omg how have I never seen this before?”
“This is very cool!”
“I love this high-tech low-tech system!”
“So awesome – it makes it easy for drivers to understand the rules.”

“They should install more of these around Japan!”

The changing signs have really opened people’s eyes to the possibilities that exist for simple technologies to make an impact on the roads. It would be great to see these types of signs become more common around Japan, because it’s a well-known fact that Japanese road signs really can be ridiculously confusing.

Source: Twitter/@zTnX4X9UPinHF0y
Featured image: Twitter/@zTnX4X9UPinHF0y
Insert images: Twitter/@zTnX4X9UPinHF0y (1, 2)

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