Highway Tips #2 – Signs

Road signs come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Each one carries a specific meaning to help guide you down the road in a safe manner. This installment will discuss each of the types of signs and what they mean. Road signs come in a variety of colors. Each color has a meaning, which can be quite important to know. The colors run from red, yellow, white, blue, green, brown, and orange.

Old stop sign along Topanga Canyon Blvd in Los Angeles, CA.

Red signs mean something is prohibited. Only a few signs use this color – stop signs and wrong-way signs are the most common of these. Stop signs are also the only one that is octagonal. The color red was not the first choice, however. Stop signs used to be yellow with black lettering. Color might depend on where you were. Eventually, stop signs became standardized with a red background and white lettering. Yield signs and some no parking signs also use this color scheme. While yield signs don’t prohibit movement, they are there to warn you of opposing or side traffic.

High wind advisory sign along State 41 in central California/

Yellow signs are advisory or warning. Things such as upcoming intersections, curves, and other roadway hazards are generally marked with yellow signs. Curves are a good example of this. The speed signs at curves are advising you of a safe speed for the curve. They aren’t a speed limit for the curve. It is a generally good idea to travel at the advised speed. Depending on many conditions, you may be able to go faster that the posted speed. With this in mind, I have found that 25 mph seems to be a breaking point for curves. Curves posted at 25 mph or higher can generally be driven faster. When they are posted lower than 25 mph, slowing down is highly advised. I’ve seen speeds as low as 5 mph posted on some roadways. I’ve also seen speeds as high as 60 mph. A curve with that high a speed is not a problem, but may be in an area with few curves and it is nice to know you don’t have to slow for it. Upcoming intersections are also posted with yellow signs. These signs tell you not that one is coming up but what type it is. Some signs are customized to show specific intersections, especially if it is a blind intersection in a curve.

Signage heading southbound toward Solemint Junction. Hwy 14 used to turn here to head east on Soledad Canyon Road from 1963-1972.

Black and white signs are regulatory signs, meaning they show some sort of rule that must be obeyed. Speed limit signs, for example, use this scheme. This is different than the curve advisory signs, which also show speed, as these signs show the maximum limit, not the advised limit. Parking signs are also generally in black and white as they limit or restrict parking in an area. Other signs in this category include bike lanes, passing, and other signs restricting either the movement or type of vehicle allowed in an area or lane.

Next services sign in Utah, which are located in Hinckley.

Blue signs are very specific in use. They act as guides to hospitals, telephones, and where services can be obtained. Roadside services can include gas stations, food, and lodging. These signs can be quite helpful for roadway users that are unfamiliar with the area and are not sure what sort of services can be obtained at a particular exit. Use of these signs varies by state as well. Some states show specific businesses, where others are more general, e.g. “Gas, Food, Lodging – Next Exit”.

Signage at a roadway junction.

Green signs are also guide signs. These give directions, by use of an arrow, to locations such as cities and roadways. They also give mileage to locations along a route. On freeways they generally show distances to the next exit, where others show distance to the next three cities. They may also mark things such as bike routes, which are roadways where there is no marked lane specific for bicycles but may be easier for bicycling in general.

Historic US 6 signage at Acton Junction.

There are also brown signs which mark recreation and historic area, such as beaches and parks. Park lands, such as national monuments, are marked with brown signs as well as forest areas. Beaches, such as the various State Beaches along the coast are marked with these brown signs as well.

Another view of the HOV bridge with a new exit sign below over I-5 north.

The last signs covered here are orange. These are for construction areas. These signs perform a wide variety of tasks but always mark a construction area. These are to be heeded in part to ensure the safety of construction workers. Detour signs also use this color scheme and mark an alternate route in case the main route is closed. Always use caution in areas marked with orange signs. In addition to construction workers, roadway quality may greatly vary as well. Well-paved roads may be turned to dirt for a time during the construction and speeds may be greatly reduced from normal.

As you can see, road signs come on many shapes and colors. Each help roadway users get to their destination in all sorts of ways. So, next time you’re out on the road, keep this in mind and it may help you on your journey to wherever you may be going.

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