Road Signs
Warning Traffic Signs on The Road

Warning Road Signs in 2020: Beyond The Permit Test

Updated June 28, 2019

Warning signs are designed to notify drivers of changes in the roadway ahead or potential hazards in the area. Based on the type of warning sign posted, motorists must adjust their driving behavior to suit the conditions indicated on the sign.

For instance, it may be necessary to:

  • Reduce speed
  • Look out for a hazard (e.g. animals in the roadway)
  • Proceed with additional caution
  • Increase your following distance

Most warning signs are diamond-shaped with yellow backgrounds and are printed with black text or symbols. Look out for warning signs and be prepared to alter the way you are driving accordingly.

Turn or curve ahead

Yellow warning signs featuring curved or winding arrows are often placed prior to unexpected or sharp curves in the roadway. The arrow on the sign will indicate in which direction the road curves up ahead. Reduce your speed and be prepared to alter your lane position when you encounter a turn or curve warning sign.

Advisory speed signs

Advisory speed signs are often posted above or below other signs. They indicate an ideal speed at which to negotiate hazardous road conditions. For example, a curve warning sign on a 50 mph road may be accompanied by a 30 mph advisory speed limit sign. This informs drivers of how fast they should be traveling to move through the bend in the road safely.

Chevron signs

Also used on curves stretches of roadway, these signs are yellow rectangles with black chevrons. They are positioned on the side of the road prior to the curve, indicating the direction in which the roadway bends. Chevron signs are often made with reflective material, making it easier to navigate tight bends in the road when driving at night.

Intersection ahead signs

Intersection warning signs are often placed ahead of junctions where two or more roadways meet. The black, intersecting road symbols on the sign should roughly reflect the design of the upcoming intersection. If one of the roadways on the sign is busy or well-traveled, it may be represented with a thicker black line.

When you see an intersection warning sign, reduce your speed and prepare to yield the right-of-way to cross traffic.

T intersection signs

A T-shaped symbol on an intersection warning sign indicates that the road you are traveling on is joining another road and coming to an end. When you reach the junction, you must yield to cross traffic before joining the new road.

Merge ahead signs

“Merge ahead” signs indicate that two lanes of traffic will merge into one, on the roadway up ahead. These signs sometimes depict a smaller road joining onto a larger road at roughly a 45-degree angle. This is often the case on limited access highways, when merge ahead signs are positioned to warn motorists that new vehicles will be merging onto the highway via an entrance ramp.

Increase your following distance to make space for other vehicles prior to the merge when you see these warning signs. On an expressway, you should move over to a lane further left to make room – if possible.

Lane ends ahead

These warning signs tell drivers that a lane is set to close further along the road and that all traffic must merge into a different lane. Merge into a new lane at the earliest, safe opportunity when occupying the lane that is about to close. If you are in a different lane, be prepared that other motorists may be seeking to enter your lane as the lane closure approaches.  

Like “merge ahead” signs, signs indicating that a lane will close make be printed with text or a symbol.

No passing zone signs

“NO PASSING ZONE” signs break the usual warning sign mold, as they are shaped like a pennant or tapering flag, rather than a diamond. These yellow and black signs mark the beginning of a stretch of road where passing is not permitted. This is usually because attempting to pass another vehicle would be extremely dangerous, as the roadway is too narrow, visibility is poor or other hazards are present.

Control device ahead signs

This type of warning sign is posted to inform drivers that a traffic control device is up ahead. Of course, there will not be a control device warning sign before every set of traffic lights you encounter. If you come across a warning sign, it is probably because the layout of the road or some other obstacle makes it hard for drivers to see the traffic control device as they approach it. When you see one of these signs, be sure to reduce your speed in preparation to yield or stop when you reach the control device.

Hazardous road ahead signs

Warning signs are often posted to prepare drivers for a change in the road surface that could lead them to lose control of their vehicles. You may encounter such signs on well-traveled stretches of road which become dangerously slick with chemical residue, or on rural roads where deep potholes could throw your vehicle off course.

Your chances of losing control are greater the faster you are moving, so it is important to slow down in a controlled manner as soon as you see a hazardous road warning sign. The example below shows a warning sign indicating an approaching bump in the road which could jolt your vehicle if crossed at speed.

This next warning sign indicates a sudden dip in the road ahead.

Sometimes you will encounter two or more hazardous road signs posted together, to warn drivers of several potential dangers as the roadway changes. As below, these two signs indicate that there is a curve in the road and the pavement is likely to be slippery when wet.

Deer crossing ahead

Warning signs may feature a symbol representing an animal – such as a deer or bear – if the chances of such animals appearing on the roadway is high. It is essential to reduce your speed when animal warning signs are present, particularly in early morning or late evening when many wild animals are most active.

Special road user warning signs

Yellow warning signs can contain symbols representing other types of road user, if they are likely to be nearby and could present a hazard. Such signs might depict pedestrians with disabilities, elderly pedestrians, children, cyclists, snowmobiles or farm vehicles. When a road is marked with one of these signs, drivers must reduce their speed and proceed with additional caution, while scanning the road ahead for hazards.

Pedestrian crossing signs

Pedestrian crossing signs feature a black symbol of a person or persons walking, often on a lined path representing a crosswalk. When drivers encounter this warning sign, they must be prepared for a pedestrian crossing area in the roadway ahead.

If you see this sign, slow down and be watchful for pedestrians stepping out into the street.

Railroad crossing ahead

Railroad crossing signs are used to warn drivers of nearby crossings, so that they may reduce their speed and look out for approaching trains. These unusual warning signs are circular, featuring a black cross over a yellow background. They often include two “R” symbols on either side of the cross.

School zone ahead

These signs warn motorists when they are approaching an area around a school, as there may be children or young adults seeking to cross the street or playing nearby. School zone warning signs are usually bright yellow pentagons (somewhat shaped like a house), though reflective school warning signs may appear yellow-green in color. In the center of the sign, a black symbol will depict children, young people or a parent and child, posed as though crossing the road.

While exact speed limits vary around the United States, most school zones have a speed limit of 15 to 35 mph. Some states also stipulate that motorists must reduce their speed by a minimum amount as compared to the usual posted speed limit in the area around the school zone. In others, lower speed limits in school zones only apply at certain times.  For instance:

  • In New Jersey, the speed limit in school zones is 25 mph.
  • In Texas, the speed limit in school zones is at least 15 mph lower than the usual limit and no higher than 35 mph.
  • In Pennsylvania, the speed limit in a school zone is 15 mph during the time periods indicated on a school zone sign, or when a school zone signal light is flashing.

Find out what the speed limit is in your state, by reading about school zones in your driving manual.

Other warning sign considerations

This article has covered the most commonly encountered warning signs, though there are others we have not discussed. Why not check out our comprehensive list of warning road signs before moving on to the next article in this section?

Remember that warning signs are usually yellow and diamond-shaped. Though in rarer cases, you may encounter a unique hazard warning sign that features the color yellow in some other way. It does not matter if you do not recognize the symbol or message printed inside a warning sign, as drivers must use the same precautionary tactics to deal with most potential hazards. When you spot a yellow sign by the roadside, reduce your speed and proceed with caution.

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