Signs, Signals, and Road Markings

Written by Staff Writer

There is a host of information available on the roadways, directing the flow of traffic and the interaction of the driving environment. The shape of a road sign can tell you as much about the sign's message as its color. Every driver needs to be extra careful when the weather is bad or when changing lanes, turning on a red light, passing, approaching intersections or merging into traffic. Always be alert to what is happening on the road. Traffic signs must meet both individual state and U.S. Department of Transportation specifications. They are made out of rust resistant heavy duty steel or aluminum with reflective sheeting for maximum visibility during the day and maximum reflectivity at night when light shines on them. The average lifespan of a traffic sign is seven years.

What is a yield sign?

Yield signs are red and white with red letters. These signs alert the driver to any upcoming hazards or road conditions that do not reflect an Immediatee condition. A yield sign calls on the driver to do the following: Slow down, defer to oncoming or intersecting traffic, stop when necessary, proceed when safe, and remain aware of oncoming vehicles. A flashing yellow light has the same meaning as a yield sign. When a flashing yellow light is observed, the driver should be cautious both prior to and while passing through the intersection.

What is a stop sign?

The stop sign is red with white letters. The stop sign calls on the driver to make a mandatory stop and proceed when safe. At a stop sign, the purpose of the limit line is to prevent the driver from entering the crosswalk or intersection inadvertently or at an excessive speed and shows the driver where to make the stop before proceeding through. Rolling stops are not acceptable. The driver of a vehicle must come to a complete stop before proceeding through the intersection. A flashing red light has the same meaning as a stop sign.

What do traffic signals do?

Signals: The two-way signal is to direct traffic flowing from two different directions with the exception of signals with turning arrows which should be in accordance with one another. Traffic signs can help you be a better driver because they:

  • WARN you of hazards ahead that might otherwise be difficult to see
  • GUIDE you to your destination by identifying the route
  • INFORM you of local regulations and practices
  • REGULATE the speed and movement of traffic.

The Red, Yellow, and Green Light — Signal light controlled intersections are typically the highest volume and the most dangerous. A driver should never attempt to cross an intersection by "assuming" opposing traffic will yield the right of way.

Even if the traffic light indicates green for you that does not automatically indicate that is safe to proceed through the intersection. You should always look both ways before entering and crossing any intersection. Another driver coming in the opposite direction may have decided to run their red light. Or perhaps an emergency vehicle may be approaching and you have not heard their sirens.

So much emphasis has been placed on the "quiet rides" of vehicles that certain sounds are sometimes difficult to hear when all your windows are rolled up tight. How many times have you actually seen an emergency vehicle approaching before you have heard its siren? Remember that even if you have a green light, the law still requires you to yield to traffic already in the intersection.

What do circular arrows indicate?

Circular arrows will resemble the red, yellow, and green traffic lights just discussed. The circular red arrow prohibits travel in the direction the arrow is pointing. Drivers must stop at the stop line (or roadway designation) until the green arrow appears. Turning on a red arrow is strictly prohibited.

The circular yellow arrow serves as a warning that the previous green arrow is about to turn to a red arrow. The driver should slow down and prepare to stop at the stop line if safely appropriate. The driver should never increase speed to try to "beat" the upcoming red arrow.

The circular green arrow indicates the right of way to proceed through the turn. At this point, crossing pedestrians and oncoming vehicles are stopped by a red light. Before proceeding, however, the driver must continue to yield to vehicles and pedestrians still in the intersection.

What do the lines on the roadways tell the driver?

Pavement markings help you just like signs and signals. They are used to warn and direct drivers and to regulate traffic. It's actually quite simple to interpret roadway markings.

There are two colors involved and drivers must understand the difference between what the colors mean just as much as the difference between broken lines and solid lines and their meanings. Yellow lines separate traffic traveling in opposite directions, whereas white lines separate traffic traveling in the same direction.

Guide Signs

These signs tell you what road you are on. Plan your trip and know which roads you wish to take.

The pentagon-shaped blue and yellow markers are used for county routes in some states.

The familiar red, white, and blue shield tells drivers they are traveling on an Interstate Highway. Even-numbered roads with two digits run east-west. North-south Interstates have odd numbers with two digits.

Square black and white markers specify U.S. routes and most state routes. Some states design their own markers, which often reflect their individuality.

If the business sign shown above is placed on top of the route sign, it indicates an officially designated highway that branches off the regularly numbered highway and goes through the business portion of the city.

Traffic Regulatory Signs

A red circle with a slash communicates "DO NOT" — The picture behind the slash indicates what act is prohibited, such as No U-Turn, No Parking, No Bicycles Allowed, Do Not Enter, No Turn Allowed, etc.

A rectangle white sign with red letters indicates that parking is restricted or prohibited.

A rectangular white sign with green letters indicates that parking is permitted with restrictions.

Standard regulatory signs provide written notice of regulations, such as "No Right Turn." Driving Safety Articles: This article was written by defensive driving staff writers and reviewed for accuracy by defensive driving instructors. All articles are based on current traffic laws and defensive driving practices. This article is intended for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice or literal interpretation of any specific traffic law.