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Road signs 101

May 19, 2012
By DAVE WERNER ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Road Signs 101? What could there be about road signs that any driver doesn't already know? Well, the way so many motorists drive, it is obvious that many don't know the rules of the road, so why should we think we know all about signs?

There are basically three types of signs - regulatory signs, warning signs, and guide signs. A fourth type of sign that should be mentioned is construction or work zone signs, which are orange in color, but they are actually a special type of warning sign. The functions of signs are to provide regulations, warnings, and guidance information for road users.

Words, symbols and arrows are used to convey the messages. Signs are not typically used to confirm rules of the road - drivers should know them.

Regulatory signs are used to inform road users of selected traffic laws or regulations and indicate the applicability of the legal requirements. They are normally rectangular with black lettering on a white background, such as speed zone signs, unless specifically designated otherwise. A stop sign is a regulatory sign but is always octagonal and red with white lettering. Similarly, a yield sign has its own distinct shape, color, and lettering.

Regulatory signs are mandatory. Think of "must" rather than "may". If you don't obey a regulatory sign, you are always in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law, and obviously can be ticketed by enforcement agencies.

Warning signs call attention to unexpected conditions on or adjacent to a highway, street or private roads open to public travel and to situations that might not be readily apparent to road users. Warning signs alert road users to conditions that might call for a reduction of speed or an action in the interest of safety and efficient traffic operations. They are normally diamond-shaped with a black legend and border on a yellow background. Warning signs regarding conditions associated with school buses and schools and their related supplemental plaques have a black legend and border on a fluorescent yellow-green background.

Fact Box

Regulatory signs:

Speed limit, Stop sign, Yield sign, Right Turn Only, and No Parking


Warning signs:

Signal ahead, Right curve (40 mph advised), Amish buggy, School bus stop ahead, Const.


Guide signs:

Destination sign, Interstate route sign, US route sign, Hospital, and Services with logos.

Often there is an advisory speed associated with a warning sign, such as a sign warning of a curve ahead with an advisory speed of something less than the posted speed limit. This speed in not mandatory, but if you exceed the advisory speed, you could be ticketed for speed not reasonable or prudent, or not reducing speed for a hazard.

The last major sign category is guide signs. Guide signs are essential to direct road users along streets and highways, to inform them of intersecting routes, to direct them to cities, towns, villages, or other important destinations, to identify nearby rivers and streams, parks, forests, and historical sites, and generally to give such information as will help them along their way in the most simple, direct manner possible.

Guide signs on streets and highways will normally have a white message and border on a green or blue background, but route number signs will usually be black lettering on a white shield for U.S. and state routes, red, white and blue for interstate highways, and yellow on a blue background for county routes. Guide signs for parks and historical districts will have a brown background.

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board's website at: and click on Traffic Safety Board under "departments."



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