Regulatory Road Signs in 2020: Beyond The Driving TestUpdated Oct. 20, 2020
Regulatory road signs are everywhere. They enforce the traffic laws controlling the street or intersection on which they are posted, telling motorists what they must or must not do in that situation. Obeying the instructions laid out on regulatory road signs is not optional; failure to do so would put all road users in the area at risk and could incur a traffic fine or penalty.
Drivers must ALWAYS look out for regulatory signs and follow the instructions they present. This section will teach you to identify and interpret some of the most commonly encountered regulatory signs.
Regulatory road signs colors
Regulatory road signs are most often printed in black text on a white background, making them easy for drivers to identify and read. Many regulatory signs which indicate a certain action is prohibited – for instance, “no parking” signs – will also feature the color red. Some of these signs are printed exclusively in red and white.
There is no universal shape for regulatory signs, though most are square or rectangular. Certain important or frequently encountered regulatory signs have their own, distinct shapes. The “STOP” sign falls into this category.
Red and white signs
Only STOP signs, YIELD signs, DO NOT ENTER signs and WRONG WAY signs are printed exclusively in red and white. While these regulatory signs each have different meanings, they ALL demand that drivers slow down and are prepared to stop. You should reduce your speed immediately if you spot a red and white sign on the roadway ahead.
STOP signs are easily identified, as they are the only red, octagonal road signs. No other road signs are designed this way. Note that four-way stop signs can be distinguished by an additional tab below the main sign.
Whenever you see a red octagon, you must be prepared to bring your vehicle to a complete stop. You should only resume driving when a traffic control device or the situation indicates that you have the right-of-way and it is safe to proceed.
YIELD signs indicate that motorists must slow down and yield the right-of-way to cross traffic when approaching a junction or intersection. It is not mandatory to come to a complete stop at a yield sign, though keep in mind that it may be necessary, to wait for an appropriate gap in the traffic.
All yield signs are red and white-colored triangles that point downward. Like stop signs, this design is used only for yield signs – making them easy to spot.
You will generally encounter one-way signs at the top of a one-way street, where it intersects another roadway. These signs instruct drivers that traffic on this street moves in one direction.
One-way signs are typically a white arrow on a thin, horizontal, black rectangle, often printed with the words “ONE-WAY”. The direction of the arrow indicates the direction in which traffic on the one-way street travels.
Do Not Enter signs
Do not enter signs are often used alongside one-way signs to prevent drivers from turning into a one-way street in the wrong direction. You will also encounter them on limited-access highway entry or exit ramps, and on other roads or driveways where entering from a certain point is not permitted.
Do not enter signs are white squares, featuring a prominent red circle that contains a white rectangle. They may or may not be printed with the words “DO NOT ENTER”.
WRONG WAY signs may be found alongside DO NOT ENTER and ONE-WAY signs. They are red, horizontal rectangles. Encountering one of these signs at the start of a road or ramp indicates that you are traveling against the flow of traffic and must turn around immediately.
Prohibitory signs often feature the color red. Prohibitory signs warn motorists that something is not allowed in that area. For instance, they may:
- Indicate that certain types of road user are not allowed on this street or lane (i.e. cyclists, pedestrians, heavy vehicles)
- Indicate that a certain maneuver or action is prohibited (i.e. parking, U-turns, turning right under a red signal)
The maneuver or road user forbidden by the prohibitory sign will be represented by a black symbol (sometimes accompanied by text) on a white, square background. A red circle and slash are printed over the black symbol, to indicate that what it represents is not allowed. Think of the red circle and slash as another way of saying “NO”. For instance, “NO PARKING” or “NO U-TURNS.
Traffic direction signs
Black and white arrow signs beside the roadway tell drivers which direction the flow of traffic should move on this side of the street. When posted before an obstruction, traffic direction signs with the text “KEEP RIGHT” indicate that drivers should move to or remain in the right-hand lane. You may encounter this sign before a traffic island, highway divider or where the left-hand lane is closed for maintenance.
Lane use signs
These regulatory signs are found above roads with multiple lanes, usually on the highway or in cities. They let motorists know who may or may not use certain lanes. Often, the restrictions indicated by lane use signs are based on the direction of travel or whether drivers intend to exit or remain on the road.
The sign pictured above indicates that any vehicle in the left lane must turn left at the next intersection. You would need to merge out of this lane as soon as possible, if your intention is to turn right or travel straight across the intersection. Other types of lanes that may be marked with lane use signs include:
- A lane that is shortly coming to an end.
- Lanes where passing is prohibited.
- Center left-turn lanes.
Speed limit signs
Rectangular speed limit signs are usually printed in black and white. The number prominently displayed in the center of the sign indicates the speed limit for the stretch of road following the sign. If the roadway opens out, moves through a built-up area or another speed limit sign is posted, the limit imposed by the previous sign ceases to be relevant.
In most cases, the speed displayed on the speed limit sign indicates the maximum speed at which vehicles may travel on that road. If driving too slowly would increase the risk associated with that stretch of road, a minimum speed limit sign may also be posted. You may encounter minimum speed limit signs on limited-access highways and other high-speed roads.
Parking signs may indicate if, when and where it is legal to park in a certain area. They usually mark individual spaces or entire stretches of the sidewalk. As drivers do not need to catch the meaning of a parking sign while traveling past at speed, the signs themselves are generally smaller than other regulatory signs. Despite this, they often feature quite detailed information. For instance, many parking signs include days of the week or time-frames in which parking in that area is prohibited. In this case, the days or times indicated on the parking sign are likely to be printed in red.
In some states, parking signs printed with green text mark spaces where parking is permitted for a restricted time only (i.e. one hour). Blue parking signs usually mark areas that are reserved for disability permit holders only and are often accompanied by pavement markings.
Some regulatory signs exclusively target pedestrian road users. They typically feature a symbol of a man walking and are used to tell pedestrians where they may or may not enter the roadway. Square white signs, with a black pedestrian symbol and a red circle and slash indicate that no pedestrians are permitted on a stretch of road, usually because there is no sidewalk available. Such roads include freeways, bridges and roads around toll booths.
Two diagonal rectangles overlapping to form a cross, featuring the words “RAILROAD CROSSING” make up the crossbuck sign. These distinctive signs are posted at places where railway tracks intersect with a road, to warn drivers that they must stop and check for approaching trains.
Understanding regulatory signs
Black and white regulatory signs – whether they use text or a symbol – are designed to be easily understood by all road users. Even if you have never encountered a particular sign before, you should be able to figure out what it means based on the rules we have outlined in this article.
All drivers must remember that the information presented here is generally applicable around the United States. Some of the regulatory signs we mention may appear differently in your state. Do not worry, these differences are usually minor and should not affect your ability to determine the meaning of any sign you encounter.
Be sure to read the signs and signals section of your driving manual, to make sure you are fully acquainted with regulatory road signs as they appear in your state. Then, why not support your learning by checking out our comprehensive list of regulatory road signs?
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