How to Read Traffic Signs: Recognizing Shapes and Colors

By: Nadia Ibanez July 4, 2012
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Traffic signs come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. With so many different traffic signs on the road, you might lose track of what each one means.

Fortunately, the shapes and colors of traffic signs can help you understand their meaning. Shape up your traffic sign knowledge with these tips.

Traffic Sign Color Tips

Traffic sign colors can clue you into what you might need to do on the road.

Below you'll find a list of common traffic sign colors and their meanings:

  • Red. Almost always, red means stop! A red traffic sign either signals you to stop your vehicle or prohibits entry.
  • Green: Green means go! A green traffic sign signals that you can proceed, or provides you with direction on where to proceed.
  • Yellow: Yellow stands for caution. A yellow traffic sign serves as a general warning.
  • Black and White: Black and white traffic signs provide posted regulations (i.e., speed limits).
  • Orange: Orange signals construction time! If you see an orange traffic sign, you will likely encounter construction or road maintenance ahead.
  • Brown: Brown traffic signs reference local recreation areas or scenic points of interest.
  • Blue: Blue stands for guidance. Blue traffic signs often offer information to assist motorists.

Traffic Sign Shape Tips

The shape of a traffic sign can often signal its meaning. For example:

  • An octagon signals the need to stop.
  • An upside down triangle always means "yield."
  • A diamond always warns of possible hazards ahead.
  • Pennant-shaped traffic signs serve as advanced warning of no passing zones.
  • Round stands for railroad. When you see a round traffic sign, you will likely see a railroad crossing.
  • A pentagon signals a school zone ahead or a school crossing zone.
  • Horizontal rectangles typically provide guidance to drivers.
  • Vertical rectangle usually serve as regulatory notices

School Yourself on Traffic Signs

While traffic sign shapes and colors can clue you into some important rules of the road, they certainly don't cover every aspect of life behind the wheel.

If you find yourself scratching your head to decipher a traffic sign, study up. Peruse your state's driver handbook. Take a couple of practice tests; you can even find road sign practice tests that focus on noting but - you guessed it - road signs.

Have you ever encountered an unfamiliar road sign? How do you stay on top of your traffic sign knowledge? Tell us in the comments section below.

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