SOMS / In-Safety

Results of Activities A2.2 and A2.4, developed during the project IN-SAFETY (Infrastructure and Safety, 2005–2008 Project No. 506716), 6th EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development Priority.
1.6. Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystem.
1.6.2: Sustainable Surface Transport

Responsibilities for the results of SOMS/IN-SAFETY have been transferred from IIID to IIIDre. Since 31. December 2019, when IIIDre was dissolved, the results of the project are hosted here, as I endeavour to expand on the findings and continue dissemiation.

Logos of European Commission, BMVIT and ASFINAG
Funded by: European Commission DG TREN, VSF Austrian Transport Safety Fund and Austrian Motor- & Highway Financing Corporation plc

D 2.3 “Proposal on unified pictograms, keywords, bilingual verbal messages and typefaces for VMS in the TERN” is based on a concept, submitted 2003 by the International Institute for Information Design (IIID) to the European Commission in a proposal “SOMS Substituting / Optimizing (variable) Message Signs for the Trans-European Road Network”, before it got merged with “IN-SAFETY / Infrastructure and Safety”.

At that time the TERN (Trans-European Road Network) covered 15 countries with 11 languages spoken plus 3 additional states which are not EU members. These countries and languages, together with 10 “new member states” with 9 official languages, were considered with the aim to derive at feasible suggestions of the cross-language and language independent display of information on VMS (Variable Message Signs) and static message boards on motorways.

The need

Considering the rapid development of traffic on European motorways, there is an undeniable need for improved and harmonized signalisation of traffic related messages in general, and danger warning information in particular throughout the TERN. Drivers cover ever wider distances – crossing several borders on one trip – require language independent, clearly understandable messages. Messages, which must allow for early recognition and comprehension, giving drivers the extra time to adjust their driving behaviour in critical situations, thus avoiding collisions and injuries.

The process: designs and tests.

IIID with 9 Consortium members of 7 EU member states started by investigating requirements indicated in official documents and other relevant literature.

The Consortium members, fully aware of the potential of the emerging new generation of freely programmable VMS based its considerations on the insight that effective communication often requires the combination of various information elements and that it should be possible to display information in animated mode whenever heightened alertness is on demand.

With the assistance of a design panel of experts of 5 EU countries, 457 symbols, matching the listed symbol referents/meanings to be visualized, have been collected. Subsequently, altogether 2.977 (documented) symbol/pictogram variants have been elaborated for submission to an iterative process of testing (according to ISO 9186 “Test methods for judged comprehensibility and for comprehension”) and redesign. In addition, a Comprehension Test on Animated Pictograms, an Evaluation of Warning Elements for Matrix Displays, a (VMS) Content Structure Test and – for the newly designed highway alphabet – an Impaired Visibility Typeface Test have been conceived. The tests were coordinated by Danube University Krems and conducted in the Czech Republic, in Hungary, Spain, and in Austria, involving 2.667 test persons.


The Deliverable, by relating to the physiological, cognitive and technical requirements on information to be displayed on VMS and conventional road signs, presents the achieved results:

  • A wide range of symbols/pictograms, tested for understanding and early recognition (Tern symbols)
  • A traffic typeface for both VMS and conventional signs, tested and designed to provide enhanced legibility, capable of displaying 20 EU languages (Tern typeface)
  • Key meanings (or Europeanisms) representing short verbal messages, a set of traffic relevant vocabulary to be understood throughout Europe, identified by INFOTERM
  • A proposed content structure for the emerging generation of freely programmable VMS, employing the elements listed above


SOMS project report.
PDF, 91 pages, 2.2MB

SOMS project report Annexes:

  1. Categorized List of collected pictograms/symbols and referents referents. PDF, 95 pages, 2.2 MB
  2. Motorway relevant Vienna Convention traffic signs from eleven EU countries. PDF, 9 pages, 13.2 MB
  3. Design guidelines for bitmap (VMS) displays. PDF, 9 pages, 500 KB
  4. Comprehensibility Judgement (CJT) Test Report. PDF, 53 pages, 1.8 MB
  5. Comprehension Test (CT) Report. PDF, 47 pages, 600 KB
  6. 2nd Comprehension Test (2ndCT) Report. PDF, 35 pages, 500 KB
  7. Comprehension Test on Animated Pictograms (CAT) Report. PDF, 46 pages, 300 KB
  8. Evaluation of Warning Elements for Matrix Displays (WET) Report. PDF, 12 pages, 300 KB
  9. Pictogram development and requirements. PDF, 12 pages, 400 KB
  10. [VMS-] Content Structure Test (CST) Report. PDF, 67 pages, 1.4 MB
  11. Impaired Visibility Typeface Test (IVT) Report. PDF, 54 pages, 1.4 MB
  12. Methodology of Activity 2.3. PDF, 82 pages, 500 KB
  13. Recommendations on “Europeanisms”. PDF, 67 pages, 1 MB
  14. Proposal on a Testing approach for bilingual messages. PDF, 6 pages, 200 KB

Next: Tern typefaces