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Comparing the 3 Primary Types of Traffic Signs

Monday May 06, 2019

Traffic signs, also known as roadway signs, are used to denote information or instructions to motorists and pedestrians. They've been around for thousands of years, with some of the earliest types consisting of stone milestone markers. With the advent of automotive transportation, however, traffic signs are now more important than ever. While there are dozens of types of traffic signs used in the United States, most fall under one of three categories.

#1) Regulatory

Constructed with a white background, as per the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), regulatory signs are used to regulate the flow of traffic in a given area. They provide motorists and pedestrians with instructions on how to move -- or not move -- through the area. Examples of regulatory signs include stop, yield, do not enter, no turn on left, no turn on right, no parking, weight limit, speed limit, one way and HOV lane ahead. Because they are used to regulate the flow of traffic, regulatory signs are arguably the most important type of traffic signs.

#2) Warning

Warning signs differ from regulatory signs in the sense that they inform rather than instruct. Warning signs are used to warn motorists and pedestrians about a given area. Examples of warning signs include left turn ahead, led reverse turn ahead, right curve ahead, winding road left ahead, hairpin curve ahead, side road at angle, sharp to the right, sharp curve to the left, intersection and hill with grade.

#3) Guide

Finally, guide signs live up to their namesake by guiding motorists (not pedestrians) through a given area. They contain essential information about an area, such as location markers. Examples of guide signs include interstate route markers, country route markers, U.S. route markers, state route markers, interchange exit sign, hurricane evacuation route, exit only and roadway junction.

Other Types

While regulatory, warning and guide signs are the three primary types of traffic signs used in the United States, there are other types approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FWA). Motorist services and recreation signs, for example, include signs for tent camping, food, lodging, telephone, hospital, emergency services, information, gas, rest area, picnic area, litter barrel, bathrooms and auto mechanic.

There are also pedestrian and bicycle signs that provide information or instructions to pedestrians and cyclists. Commonly used pedestrian and bicycle signs include no pedestrians, bicycle parking, bicycles yield to pedestrians, hill ahead (with bicycle), slippery when wet (with bicycle), pedestrian crossing and bicycle crossing.


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