How to Understand Traffic Signs

Four Methods:Regulatory SignsWarning SignsMarker SignsGuide Signs

Traffic signs tell us to stop, watch out for deer, be aware of curvy roads and slow down. They are different shapes, sizes, color and heights. But, there is a method to the madness!


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    Know the different categories of traffic signs.
    • Regulatory signs regulate the flow of traffic and movement. They come in an assortment of shapes and colors. The most common regulatory signs are stop, yield, do not enter, one way, speed limit and school zone signs.
    • Warning signs warn drivers of upcoming traffic hazards, dangerous roads, and other situations that require caution. They are generally yellow or orange and diamond-shaped.
    • Marker signs announce the route number of a highway/freeway or the direction a particular road can lead to. They are usually white or green. Route markers are blue with a red strip on top.
    • Guide signs inform drivers of destinations and distance, expressways and freeways, and work zones. They are generally rectangular and can come in a variety of colors.
    • Recreational and cultural interest signs are brown with white text, and they signal nearby points of interest. These are usually directed towards travelers, and highlight restaurants, gas stations, areas with potable water, lodging, land/water/winter recreation, and other services.

Method 1
Regulatory Signs

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    Stop signs are red and octagonal with white text. They tell drivers to come to a complete stop at the white line on the street. Drivers should look both ways to yield to pedestrians and oncoming traffic before proceeding.
    • Each stop sign comes with a label at the bottom that indicates how many cars at the intersection have a stop sign.
    • Two-way signs tell you that two cars do; you and the car traveling opposite you on the same street. You must both yield to all cars on the cross street.
    • Three-way signs are generally only present at intersections that have three streets, so they function in the same way as four-way and all-way stop signs. The car that arrives at the intersection first can leave first after coming to a complete stop. If two cars arrive at the same time, the one on the right has the right of way.
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    Yield signs are red and white. They tell drivers to slow down and to prepare to stop if there are vehicles or pedestrians in the intersection.
    • An alternate version of a yield sign is a white rectangle that reads "TO ONCOMING TRAFFIC."
    • Some yield signs specify stopping for pedestrians, or announce that there is a pedestrian crosswalk you must stop for.
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    Speed limits indicate the speed that drivers should maintain on that street. It's generally acceptable to go 5 miles (8.0 km) above or below the speed limit, but anything beyond that can earn you a traffic ticket.
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    Lane regulation signs are white and tell drivers that they can only or cannot turn in particular directions (left, right, u-turn). They also indicate if lanes are reserved for certain vehicles (e.g., taxis, buses, trucks, etc.)
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    Movement regulation are white and tell drivers if they need to stay/shift lanes, merge, or keep towards a certain direction.
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    Selective exclusion signs include do not enter and wrong way signs, usually in the color of red. They also specify if certain vehicles are prohibited on a street (e.g., buses, bicycles, vehicles with lugs, trucks, or motor vehicles); these are generally white.
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    One way signs are white and indicate that traffic only flows in one direction on that particular street.
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    Parking regulation signs specify times when parking is prohibited on that section of the street.
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    Railroad crossing signs are white and X-shaped. They indicate that railroad tracks are ahead, and drivers should prepare in case a train comes. This means not stopping in the middle of intersections and taking caution.

Method 2
Warning Signs

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    Turn and curve signs tell you how the road ahead is shaped, and the direction that you should go in order to drive safely. Some signs are labeled with numbers that indicate the speed you should drive while making the turn or driving on the curvy street. Be extra careful in rainy conditions.
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    Intersection signs demonstrate the shape of the approaching intersection. Watch for the cross traffic.
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    Advanced traffic control signs can have self-explanatory words or other signs in a yellow, diamond-shaped sign. They'll indicate if there are stop signs, yield signs, traffic lights or altered speed limits ahead.
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    Merge and lane transition signs warn you of upcoming changes to the road and how you should adjust accordingly. Signs may tell you to merge or warn you that traffic in a certain direction does not stop.
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    Width restriction signs tell you that the road, bridge or ramp you are about to travel on narrows. You may need to merge lanes to adjust.
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    Hill signs indicate upcoming hills, and may tell you to adjust your car to a lower gear. They can also indicate the percent grade of the hill, which describes its slope.[1]
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    Pavement condition signs describe the condition of the road ahead -- whether it's rough, contains loose gravel, or uneven. They may also point out bumps and dips, so slow down if you see those.
    • The "NO CENTER STRIPE" sign is generally orange and indicates that there is no paint separating your lane and the lane for the oncoming traffic.
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    Low clearance signs indicate the ceiling height of the approaching area. If your car is taller than the labeled height, do not proceed ahead.
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    Work zone signs are orange and indicate upcoming construction projects. Proceed with caution and expect delays.
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    Advisory speed limits list the speed recommended for the street, but these are not officially enforced by the government. Thus, you cannot be cited for driving at a different speed there.

Method 3
Marker Signs

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    Route markers tell you the number of the interstate highway. They are blue with white text and a red stripe on top that reads "INTERSTATE." They come in the shape of a shield.
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    Cardinal direction auxiliaries tell you whether the highway you are about to enter leads to the north, south, east or west directions.
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    Alternate route signs come in three flavors. White signs inform you of alternate routes and whether you need to bypass anything. Orange signs warn you of a detour and point towards the alternate direction you should take. Green signs tell bicyclists of the beginning and end of auxiliary paths.
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    Directional auxiliaries tell you of the possible directions you can proceed towards. They are white with black arrows.
    • Directional auxiliaries for bicycles are green with white arrows, and function in the same way.

Method 4
Guide Signs

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    Destination and Distance signs indicate freeway entrances and exits, the number of miles until certain major destinations are reached, street names, parking, weigh stations, and bike routes. These are generally green with white text, and may contain pictorial icons. An exception is signs that point to rest areas and general services (e.g., food and lodging), which are blue.
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    Work Zone Information signs warn you of upcoming work zones and where they end. These are orange with black text, and require drivers slowing down, approaching with caution and expecting delays.
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    General Information signs are green and indicate political boundaries (state/city/county lines) and the speed that signals are set for.[2] These also include welcome signs from a certain city or state, which can be customized.


  • Stop sign: A stop sign means stop. If there is a painted white line by the stop sign, stop before it. If there is not a painted line, then stop so that you have optimum visibility through the intersection. If visibility at the intersection is poor, first stop behind the stop sign then creep forward until you can see clearly.
  • Speed limit signs: help regulate the flow of traffic. It’s illegal to drive faster than the posted speed limit.
  • In school zones speed limits are usually 15 or 20 mph (24 or 32 km/h). Fines can double in school and work zones, so pay particular attention.
  • Yield sign: A yield sign means slow down. Be ready to stop. Let any traffic, pedestrians, or people on bicycles pass before you continue.


  • Different countries could have different traffic signs. Make sure you are aware of the customs of the area you are traveling in.

Article Info

Categories: Driving Basics