Everything You Need to Know About Traffic Safety Signs

02.06.2022: You will find them around busy intersections and at the corners of quiet suburban streets; you will see them loom overhead as you speed down the motorway or when you try to find that cottage


You will find them around busy intersections and at the corners of quiet suburban streets; you will see them loom overhead as you speed down the motorway or when you try to find that cottage along that quiet country road.


Safety signs can be found everywhere that cars drive and, while so much road safety is down how drivers behave on the road, that behaviour is dictated in a large part by the safety signs which inform, direct, and explain. Road safety simply wouldn’t work without safety signs, and they can be found in many more places than you might initially expect.



For new drivers and those seasoned behind the wheel alike, traffic signs are something that you need to know about. The most important aspect of their function, however, is not what they mean on their own or what they actually say – it’s how all of that works in tandem with our road rules.


Indeed, traffic signage, from one-way signs to warning signs, can be thought of as a visual language that is deeply integrated with the rules of the road. Just as we know how to react to certain other features of our roads, we should all know what to do when a road safety sign springs up around the next corner.






Road Language



We can think of traffic signs therefore as one of the languages of the road. Sometimes though, this language is spoken in different dialects. Not all roads are the same, and there is specific signage of the motorways, of quiet suburban streets, or even of motor racing tacks and bike lanes. So, if you plan to traverse with four wheels over any of these locations, there can be a few different systems of road safety signage to learn.



Perhaps it is better not to think of it as different systems; road safety is a well-integrated discipline and it’s really all the same system. But undoubtedly, some road safety signs appear more often in certain places than in others; some appear only in certain places. If you want to become a good all-round driver, or if you are freshly embarking on some new kind of driving, learning all the quirks and differences of road safety signage is much advised.



Why Are Traffic Signs Important?


Of course, the general answer to this question is obvious, but it’s worth going into a bit more detail about the precise reason road safety signs are important and valuable. Road safety signs keep drivers safe, but it is often forgotten that they also exist for the benefit of pedestrians as well. Either by instructing them on how to navigate roads down which vehicles are travelling, or by instructing those vehicles about the movements of pedestrians. Road safety signs therefore inform pedestrians about traffic, or traffic about pedestrians – so they are not just for motorists.


Also, when we talk about the language of traffic signs, we shouldn’t get confused with the actual English language which is often used on traffic signs. A lot of signs do have words, but some do not. Usually, it is the more universal aspects of road safety which are represented by easy-to-understand symbols, whereas more particular things are spelled out in letters. Traffic signs, then, are both a visual and a verbal language!




Different Shapes, Different Meanings



As we proceed through this article, we are going to delve further into traffic signs and all their great diversity. Unfortunately, that means things are going to get a little more complicated. The next thing to note about traffic signs is that their shape is also relevant.


Traffic signs can be categorized according to their shape. In one sense, this simplifies matters because the shape will at least tell you something about what the sign means, which is handy when there are literally hundreds of different traffic signs out there.




Traffic signs can be categorized into three different shapes, each of which indicates something different. The shapes are as follows:




Circular



Circular road signs give direct orders, and they must be followed if you are going to remain within the bounds of the law. If the circle has a red border, it will be telling you not to do something – i.e., no U turns, no lorries. If the circle has a blue border, on the other hand, then it is giving a positive instruction, such as “turn left ahead”.



Triangular


Triangular signs are giving you a warning, but not an order. They are there to alert drivers of upcoming hazards or road layouts. Warnings about sharp bends or animal crossings in the countryside will be triangular in shape.




Rectangular


Rectangular signs are simply there to inform. Often, the information given on these road signs will be irrelevant to most of the drivers reading them, but important to some others. For example, rectangular road signs will inform motorists about bus lanes, congestion charging zones, or simply what district or city is coming up.




Less Common Traffic Signs and Where to Find Them



So, having been over the typical road signs, it is time to look at specialist road signs and the unusual situations where they can be found. Sometimes these road signs are official and regulated by traffic authorities, other times they are private signs set up by whoever owns a particular roadway, such as the owner of a racing track or a private lane approaching a farm. There are far too many examples to give an exhaustive list, but here are a few:




Racing Tracks


What traffic signs are found on racing tracks depends on what track it is an who owns the track. From go-karts right up to Formula One, racing tracks require special instructions for drivers, such as where the pitstops are or where the lanes that are not for racing are located, and so on. These signs can take many forms.




Wildlife Areas



In these areas, you can see all sorts of weird and wonderful animal shapes appearing on road signs. These road signs are usually entirely pictorial, and you might see anything from a crocodile to a kangaroo to a sheep or a bear – depending on where you are in the world, obviously!




Especially Dangerous Situations



If you are winding round the side of a mountain in your offroad vehicle, you may see all sorts of hazard signs that you would never encounter on a typical urban road. Signs like these are to warn drivers about especially dangerous situations such as falling rocks, extremely bumpy terrain, or even “sudden gunfire”. They are usually spelled out in English unless the symbol is obvious.


And that, then, is the world of traffic road signs and the fascinating verbal-pictorial-colour code language that they speak. Learning how to drive is just the first step; after that, you have to learn to communicate with the road itself.

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02.06.2022 / MaP

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