Learning Road Sign Safety

Vilma Ruddock
A variety of road signs

Road signs regulate the flow of traffic, warn drivers of safety hazards and road conditions, and guide them to travelers' services and assistance. Once you learn the basic shapes, colors, and symbols, you will be able recognize road signs from a distance or in poor weather conditions.

Standard Shapes and Colors

Sign shapes and colors standardize and simplify road regulations, warnings, guidance, and directions so everyone can understand them. For example, the most recognizable road signs are the red octagon STOP sign and the upside down triangle YIELD sign.

Shapes

Road sign shapes represent regulatory commands, give a traveler guidance and direction, and warn of hazards or conditions ahead. Nine standard shapes are used in road signs in the United States.

Shapes Example Meaning
Octagon
Octogan shape
Always means STOP
Upside down triangle
Upside down triangle
Always means YIELD
Diamond
Diamond shape
Warning of possible hazard ahead, such as slippery or winding road or intersection
Pennant
Pennant shape
Warning of a no passing zone
Round
Round shape
Railroad crossing
Pentagon
Pentagon shape
School zone or school crossing ahead; county route signs in some states
Horizontal Rectangle
Horizontal shape
Guide/information signs, such as route markers, destination, or road closed
Vertical Rectangle or Square
Vertical rectangle
Regulatory notice, such as KEEP RIGHT, ONE WAY, or DO NOT PASS
Shield
Shield shape
Route marker for interstate highways

Colors

Road sign colors also encode regulatory commands, directions, warnings, road conditions, and motorists' assistance and services. There are seven basic colors used for road signs in the United States.

Color Example Meaning
Red
Red stop sign
Stop, yield, do not enter, or wrong way
Green
Green road sign
Directs you to go or guides you where to go
Yellow
Yellow road work ahead sign
General warning to take caution for hazards or changes ahead; slow down
Black and White
Black and white speed limit sign
Regulatory notice, such as speed limit
Orange
Orange construction zone sign
Construction or maintenance ahead
Brown
Brown scenic directional sign
Scenic, historic, or recreational points of interest
Blue
Blue handicap sign

Guides motorists to assistance or services (food, gas, etc); handicap parking or facilities

Standard Road Sign Symbols

The symbols used on road signs in the United States replace words and are also easy to recognize in other countries. Familiar examples of these symbols as applied in the U. S. include:

Symbol Example Meaning
Children on yellow pentagon
Children on yellow pentagon
School zone
Squiggly arrow on yellow diamond
Winding road sign
Winding road
Two up and down arrows on yellow diamond
Two way traffic sign
Two-way traffic
Up arrow and red octagon on yellow diamond
Stop sign ahead
Stop ahead
"H" on blue square
Hospital sign
Hospital nearby
Two Rs on either side of an X on yellow circle
Railroad crossing sign
Railroad crossing

Note that though road symbols are universal, the meanings of shapes and colors in other countries, such the United Kingdom, differ from those in the U. S.

A Printable Resource

Download and print a useful resource of the standard road signs shapes and colors for learning or as a reference. If you need help in downloading printable adobe PDF files, follow these instructions.

Additional Road Sign Safety Resources

Learn more about road signs and safety from the following resources.

  • The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCDs) handbook from the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is an excellent source for more information on standard road signs used in the U. S. It is the official publication of the Federal Highway Administration and is available for free download.
  • The Manual of Traffic Signs has a detailed listing and explanation of traffic signs, colors, shapes, and specific signs used in the United States. You can download information on several regulatory, warning, and temporary traffic control road signs, among others.

Essential to Road Safety

Road signs are essential to traffic control and safe driving. Protect yourself and others and follow regulations by learning the meaning of road sign shapes, colors, and symbols.

Learning Road Sign Safety