Ask the expert: Careful what you wish ford

Richard Hayes, chief executive of the Institute of Highway Engineers, answers a call for help from a member of the public on the hazards of taking your vehicle through what may turn out to be very deep water.

Richard Hayes writes:
The arrangements for signing of fords are included in the Traffic Signs Manual Chapter 4 Warning Signs. 10.1 Fords and floods…10.1.1. The ‘Ford’ sign to diagram 554 should be used at all fords, even those which dry up in summer. The sign should also be placed at the entry to the road leading to the ford, accompanied by a distance plate with or without an arrow as appropriate. Where a road is subjected to frequent flooding, the ‘Ford’ sign may be supplemented by a ‘Road liable to flooding’ plate. While the water depth gauge is no longer a prescribed sign, authorities are encouraged to continue to place these indications at locations where the ford might become impassable in times of flood. 10.1.2. The ‘Flood’ sign to diagram 554A may be displayed only for as long as the hazard continues to exist or is expected to recur in the near future. It may be accompanied by a distance plate with or without an arrow as appropriate and should be followed, beyond the flooded length of road, by a ‘Try your brakes’ sign to diagram 554.1 (S2 2 39, see Figure 10-3). If the water depth makes the road impassable, a ‘ROAD AHEAD CLOSED’ sign, placed at each end of
the closure at junctions where traffic can be diverted, would be more appropriate.

10.1.3. The ‘Try your brakes’ sign should also be installed on the exit side of a ford. Given the likely minor status of the road, adequate warning is usually provided if these signs are mounted on the reverse of the ‘Ford’ signs. 10.1.4. This sign may also be used with signs associated with steep hills and escape lanes (see section 6). The largest size (1500 mm) could be used in these instances, but not at fords. 10.1.5. Depth gauges should be provided at fords or locations where flooding is known to be a persistent problem (see Figure 10-4). The zero level is the lowest part of the carriageway. Gauges should be sited so that the depth of water can be seen by road users on both
approaches. These are not prescribed by the Regulations and need to be authorized by the appropriate national authority.


Responsibility for any issues will lie with the local highway authority, which should erect appropriate warning signs as per the above regulations. When excessive flooding does occur, both the police and highway authority have the emergency power to close the road for the duration of the event. When there is evidence of a significant number of incidents, the highway authority should review the situation. However, this may will lead to a more restrictive use of the road, e.g. closure.

In 2012, it was decided to close Stanhope Ford in County Durham permanently to vehicles in the interest of public safety following a public inquiry. In a previous job role, I was responsible for the management of the causeway to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (pictured, above) off the north Northumberland Coast, where each day on two occasions the road was submerged and several vehicles have been trapped in deep water.

Despite considering very technical solutions to warn drivers and extensive publicity, neither I nor the local community were able to prevent incidents reoccurring, with a van being caught out as recently as March. Obviously full closure of this route was not an option!