Highways England has launched a trial using automatic number plate readers to provide warnings in foreign languages on digital road signs.

The government-owned company is providing information on roadworks in nine languages on various portable electronic variable message signs.

The system works with an automatic number plate reader mounted at roadside and warns the electronic sign in case a foreign lorry comes.

The sign then selects a suitable foreign language to deliver a message such as ‘M6 J.44 Cerrado’, ‘closed’ in Spanish.

Drivers are being warned of roadworks in German, French, Polish, Romanian, Dutch, Spanish, Lithuanian, Slovak and Hungarian.

The pilot is being carried out in Cumbria where £7m of enhancements are taking place along the M6 north of Carlisle.

It is believed to be the first time in the UK that electronic signs have been used to provide information to foreign lorry drivers.

Highways England senior project manager Steve Mason 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.”

The multilingual signs have been placed along the A66 and A69 to warn drivers on the overnight junction closures.

Highways England is encouraging staff, specialists and contractors to work on new methods to operate, maintain, repair and enhance the motorways and major A-roads in the UK.

It has established a £150m innovation fund to support new initiatives.

Highways England operates, maintains and works to improve England’s motorways and major A roads. It works with the Department for Transport.