Road Signs
Guide Signs on The Road

Guide Signs on the Road in 2020: Beyond The Drivers Test

Updated June 18, 2019

Unlike regulatory signs and warning signs, guide signs do not instruct motorists to take, or avoid, a particular action. Instead, they are designed to provide useful information about immediate or upcoming locations. Guide signs may tell you about roadside services, gas stations, historical sights, important junctions or turn offs, parks, rivers or other areas of natural beauty.

Depending on the type of information they provide, guide signs can be organized into four main categories:

  1. 1

    Brown colored guide signsindicate useful amenities and places of recreation.

  2. 2

    Blue colored guide signsmark rest stops and service areas.

  3. 3

    Destination signs – usually colored green– inform drivers of the distance remaining before a highway exit.

  4. 4

    Route markerstell motorists the number of the road they are currently driving on. The color of the route marker will depend on the type of road it identifies.

Now, let’s discuss these different types of guide sign in a little more detail.

Route marker guide signs

Every numbered highway will include route markers positioned at regular intervals by the roadside, to help drivers identify their location. Arrows are sometimes posted below a route sign to point motorists toward the indicated route – these are known as “trailblazers”.

Mile posts are included on some major highways to help drivers establish the distance they have traveled. They are usually posted every mile from the beginning of the highway. These signs can come in very handy if you break down and need to describe your location to a recovery worker or emergency responder.

Route marker signs vary in design based on the type of road and where it is located. As discussed here:

  1. 1

    Interstate highways.
    Limited access interstate roads use the same route marker design everywhere: a blue and red shield-shaped sign. To assist drivers in pin-pointing their location and direction of travel, north-south interstate highways are odd-numbered and east-west interstate highways are even-numbered.

  2. 2

    U.S. Highways.
    These highways are marked with black and white shield-shaped signs. As with interstate highways, north-south routes are marked with odd numbers while east-west routes are marked with even numbers. U.S. highways are different from interstate highways, as they intersect with other roads and feature traffic signals.

  3. 3

    State and county highways.
    Some state and county highways follow the federal road-numbering practice of assigning north-south routes with odd numbers and east-west routes with even numbers. Keep in mind that not all states use this method and those that do, do not do it consistently. The design of state and county highway route markers varies wildly around the country, with each state using its own unique system. Some state highway route markers incorporate some aspect of that state’s flag or a symbol which resembles the shape of the state. Black and white are the colors most commonly used on state highway route markers.

Your state’s own driving handbook should detail the route marker design system used in your state – be sure to check this out.

Destination signs

Destination signs are posted above or beside most major highways to direct road users. They are typically green, rectangular signs with white text, which list the name of the destination alongside the distance remaining until that destination. If the highway you are traveling on intersects with another highway, the route number of that highway will be indicated on the destination sign.

Exits on well-traveled highways are often numbered to help drivers identify and prepare for their turn-off. If drivers must merge into a specific lane to access their exit, this will usually be indicated on the exit sign. On limited access highways, at least three exit signs will be posted at regular intervals before each exit.

Recreation signs

These brown colored guide signs mark interesting landmarks, fun places to visit and recreational facilities. You may see them around national parks, swimming pools or campsites.

As per the image above, some recreational signs feature symbols or images which resemble the type of place they mark. Recreational signs sometimes appear as part of a larger guide sign, such as green directional sign, to point road users in the direction of that facility.

Roadside service signs

Blue roadside service signs are often used on long stretches of highway where motorists have infrequent access to important services. This type of guide sign may point out the location of a rest stop, restaurant, hotel, hospital or gas station. On limited access highways, roadside service signs sometimes include the distance remaining until the next service station, so that drivers can make an informed decision about whether to stop.

Railroad emergency notification system signs (ENS)

Railroad emergency notification system (ENS) signs are typically blue, as they identify an emergency service. There are railroad emergency notification system signs present at nearly all railroad crossings around the United States. ENS signs are usually posted with the black and white crossbuck sign or by the railway crossing itself.

On the ENS sign, drivers will find an emergency, toll-free number which they should call in the event of an emergency involving the railway tracks, such as:

  • A disabled vehicle, partially or completely blocking the crossing.
  • Malfunctioning signal devices or gates at the crossing.
  • An obstacle blocking the railway crossing.
  • Trespassers on the railway tracks.
  • Another situation making the crossing unsafe.

The ENS line is manned 24 hours a day, every day. The operative you speak to when calling this number will be able to advise you and is your best hope of stopping any trains which are due to move through the crossing. Beneath the telephone number on the ENS sign will be a unique identification number. Quote this reference number when talking to the ENS operative, as they will need it to locate the crossing in question.

Guide signs in different states

While some state driver handbooks do not discuss guide signs in detail, it is important to read through all sign-related information that features in your manual. As you can see from the route marker section above, the design of common guide signs can vary quite a bit from one state to the next.

Do not worry if guide signs do not feature prominently in your driving manual, as our comprehensive list of guide road signs can provide examples of the signs discussed in this module.

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