With the average American driver traveling over 1,000 miles in their car every month, it’s important for road signage to be concise and clear, ensuring the safe passage of pedestrians and vehicles.
But what makes a highway sign understandable? Traffic signs can be sliced and divided any way you want them to, and they’re intentionally designed that way.
Road signs have three basic categories – regulatory, warning, and guide signs — but they can also be sorted by color and shape.
Chances are you’ve seen hundreds of traffic signs but may not be aware what those colors and shapes mean to the average driver, and why disregarding the standards could jeopardize traffic safety.
1. Regulatory Signs
Also known as traffic control signage, these signs are, by their nature, less informational, and more directorial. For travelers entering a new town, unfamiliar with unique traffic laws and penalties, regulatory signs are often the most important.
They include stop signs, yield signs, turn and lane use signs and traffic signal signs (“No Turn on Red,” for instance). If you’re a driver looking for curbside parking, regulation signs provide the information you need to avoid a citation. Regulatory signs also encompass detour signs, weigh station signage, and railroad crossing signs.
2. Warning Signs
Maybe the most likely to save your life in a vehicle, warning signs do exactly as their title suggests – warn drivers about upcoming hazards, lane merges, or necessary speed changes.
Warning signs include turn and curve warnings, intersection signs, merge and lane transition warnings, bridge clearances, divided highway warnings, hill warnings, and pedestrian crossing notices among others. Almost every warning sign is symbol-based, with little to no text.
3. Guide Signs
When you’re taking a road trip, guide signs are the holy grail of navigation. Yes, GPS navigation can take you just about anywhere nowadays, but fumbling with your phone while your approaching a confluence of two or three highways can be dangerous.
Guide signs, such as diagrammatic guide signs, roadway junction signs, destination distance signs, and mile markers, help motorists navigate interstate highways without taking their eyes off the road.
1. Red and white signs indicate rules you MUST follow.
These signs are typically restrictive, often featuring phrases that begin with the words “Do Not” or “Wrong.” They also contain various commands. The color red, synonymous with anger, hostility, and immediacy, will deliver a message before the driver even reads the sign.
So why does red grab our attention so quickly? Scientific American, a reputable popular science magazine, found that drivers blocked in traffic by a red car react faster than drivers barred by vehicles of other colors.
2. Yellow signs are meant to be cautionary.
If we were to liken these traffic signs to sayings, we’d say they were: “Always be prepared,” or “Look both ways before crossing the street.” Yellow traffic signs signify that a slowdown is coming, or that caution is required.
They can also warn drivers about changing conditions, or meteorological or geographic hazards on, or next to, the roadway. They may be yellow, or a combination of yellow or green, with black pictograms and wording.
3. Green does not always mean go.
Green signs fall under the guide signs category – for the most part. Used to give directions through highway interchanges, they tell the driver where they are in relation to various markers. A good example of how green signs function are destination distance signs, which display the driver’s distance from the nearest major cities.
Because of the information they convey, street name signs are often green as well. If you’re the manager of a private community ordering street signs, you should stick to this basic tradition; otherwise, you may distract residential drivers.
4. Blue signs help motorists find basic services.
Looking for lodging, or trying to make a quick pit stop before getting back on the road? These signs give information about where to find commercial services.
Rest areas, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels can be found with distance markers before major highway exits.
5. Construction signs rely on orange to keep you alert.
Road work can be a major hassle, but it’s a necessity. Orange traffic signs alert drivers to slow down before passing major construction projects. They are also a source of information for helping drivers navigate through and around these work zones.
Fines and tickets double in certain roadwork related zones, and the vibrancy of orange helps keep motorists aware that their actions have consequences. Match roadwork signage with barricades or caution tape, so that drivers know where they can and cannot drive.
6. Brown signs signify public recreation.
Smokey the Bear is brown, and he wants you to prevent fires in our nation’s forests, so maybe that’s why the brown used for recreational signs was added to the National Park Service’s 1975 standards.
While in all seriousness, brown traffic signs detail important historical locations, parks, and cultural points of interest. The color was adopted by state and local governments to maintain a consistent message.
For local businesses and municipalities, brown signage can attract passing motorists who wouldn’t have stopped at area attractions otherwise.
Contrary to public perception, sign shapes are not arbitrary. They’re chosen with visibility in mind. In cases of heavy fog, snow, or precipitation, drivers may not be able to read signs, or make out basic colors. Shapes are a final fail-safe to maintain traffic safety.
1. See an octagon shape in the distance? Stop immediately.
Octagons are used exclusively for stop signs. It’s important when ordering street signs for your locality to avoid this shape. Stay compliant with MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control) and only custom-order regulatory signs from a trusted signage supplier.
2. A triangular sign is only used for yielding.
Yield signs mean slow down, get ready to stop, and let traffic pass before continuing onward.
3. Round means railroad.
An attention-grabbing “X” adorns the front of these signs, indicating a railroad crossing. Drivers have the added benefit of flashing lights at most railroad crossings, but it’s a wise precaution to slow down after discerning a round sign in the distance.
4. Diamond signs should grab your attention.
Typically, yellow-colored, diamond-shaped signs alert drivers to existing or seasonal hazards on the road, before they are encountered.
5. Vertical rectangular signs are also regulatory signs.
These signs tell about important rules to follow on motorways, including messages like “Keep Right” and “HOV Lane Ahead.” Unlike most of the signs covered so far, vertical rectangular signs lack color, sticking to a neutral, monochromatic scale.
6. Horizontal rectangular signs are directional and informational.
While not all green signs are horizontal rectangular signs, both have a fair amount of overlap. These are guide signs marking the direction of highways, entrances to a city’s downtown, and special information.
Your local resource for traffic signs that facilitate cooperative driving, alleviate traffic, and save lives. Our selection includes affordable Roadside Signs, as well as Traffic Control Signage. Rely on us for measurement, custom designs and installations. To get started, contact us today.