Tag Archives | road signs

Sign sense

If you see a roadside pole with a number of signs attached to it then the first hazard you encounter will be positioned at the top, the second will be the next one down, and so on. Knowing this means that you can prepare to deal with each hazard in the order that they are going to occur. Again, it’s worth noting that painting lines on a road is expensive, so if you see lots of paint it’s there for a reason. A general rule is that the more paint you can see, the greater the danger, so slow down and take your time to negotiate whatever hazard it is alerting you to.

Right of way?

There are going to be times when you come to a junction or other situations where it may be difficult to figure out who has the right of way as there may be no road signs or markings. When this happens do not assume you have priority as other drivers may assume they too have the right to go. It is best to be courteous and let them have the right of way. It may take a few extra seconds to wait, but you will still get where you are going, and you will get there safely.

National speed limit

national speed limit sign

national speed limit

It’s essential that you recognise this round sign showing a white background with a diagonal black stripe across it. For the majority of vehicles it means 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageway roads. The national speed limit (NSL) works on the same principle as the 30mph speed limit in that it is not signed apart from where the speed limit starts. It is predominantly used along the rural road network. Again, recognising it is simple: where there are no street lights and no signs to the contrary, the national speed limit is in force. The speed limit on a motorway is 70mph unless otherwise indicated. Remember, never treat speed limits as a target, it is often not appropriate or safe to drive at the maximum speed limit.

It’s good to talk

Commentary driving is simply giving a verbal running commentary on what you see, what you are planning to do, and what you thinking while you drive. Essentially this exercise trains you to focus and stay alert. After all, high-speed emergency services such as the police use commentary driving, while training and in the course of pursuit.

Importantly, it helps to address lack of awareness and concentration as it engages your brain with every detail picked up by your eyes, and improves your observational skills at a faster rate. You might be thinking: does it really make a difference whether you’re speaking things out-loud or just thinking about the road ahead? Your thoughts can wander and quite often you don’t even realise it. Commentary driving helps to cut off non-relevant thoughts allowing you to concentrate 100 per cent with the task at hand. For example, it’s easy to creep over the speed limit, so why not incorporate commentary driving into your speed awareness by verbally acknowledging road signs and your current speed.

It is a learning process and takes practice, so don’t think you need to start communicating everything you see right way. Start off slowly by mentioning significant things and build from there, eventually talking through your routines, traffic situations and emerging hazards stating what course of action you intend to take, keeping your commentary to short sentences. Even if you don’t like the thought of commentary driving, give it a try and see how you get on.

Meaningful colours

It’s essential to know what the colour of every road signs means as each one tells you something important. There are five colours that are usually used in standard road signs:


As with shapes, there are exceptions to these common colours. The most common exception is yellow, which is used in all signs that divert traffic. Again, it’s used to make itself more noticeable, which comes in handy when night-time traffic needs to be diverted.

Every picture tells a story

As Roy Walker used to say on the TV series Catchphrase, ‘just say what you see’. While there are likely to be some road sign symbols that will bamboozle you, most of the pictures used on signs are straightforward to figure out. For example:

Symbols depicting people usually indicate some kind of pedestrian nearby (children, the elderly, horse riders). Symbols with numbers on their own are usually to do with speed, either to tell you the speed limit or to impose a minimum speed on that road. Numbers that appear alongside other symbols are usually used for clarification, like junction numbers or the maximum height of a vehicle. Symbols with arrows tend to refer to traffic and how it should flow, for example, whether oncoming traffic has priority, or that you cannot make a U-turn.

However, you will come across some signs that make no logical sense, such as a diagonal slash to indicate that the national speed limit applies. In these cases, this is where knowing your specific road signs is essential.

Deciphering signs

Learning to decipher road signs is essential to becoming a safer driver. Once you learn to spot the pieces that make up a traffic sign, you’ll be able to put the themes together and understand almost any sign you come across. Start with the shapes: the first thing you’ll notice about any road sign is its shape, and this gives you your first piece of information.

The most common road sign shapes are circles, triangles and rectangles. Circular signs are used to give orders; usually something that you must or must not do. Triangular signs warn drivers about upcoming hazards or a change in the traffic flow. Rectangular signs give you some kind of information about what’s ahead. This could be an upcoming junction, a tourist attraction, services or diverted traffic.

The most common exception to this rule is the stop sign, which is an octagon. This is deliberately different so you’ll recognise it immediately, and has the same shape in most parts of the world. So if you’re driving in Europe, you don’t need to know what ‘arrêt’ means to know that you have to stop.

Slippery approach

What does a ‘Slippery road surface’ sign mean to you? Apart from the obvious, it can also mean that the road surface ahead may have a different level of grip to the one you are currently driving on, which means it isn’t slippery as such – just different. However, if you come across one of these signs put up as a temporary sign (like roadworks) it means something totally different. It suggests there has been a spillage on the road ahead, such as oil or mud, making conditions slippery. Remember, signs are always there for a reason.

Shape matters

The meaning of road signs varies with their shape, so remember: red triangles warn, red circles (both with and without a diagonal line) prohibit, blue discs give orders to do something and rectangles give information/direction.

The varying colours on rectangular signs signify different meanings. Direction signs are blue for motorways, green for primary routes (main ‘A’ roads), white for non-primary routes, with a blue border for minor roads or destinations, brown for tourist or leisure information, yellow for temporary matters (for example, diversions, new housing estates), black for goods vehicles and red borders for military or government establishments. There’s just one catch, blue information signs are also used on non-motorway roads to denote information such as parking and escape lanes.

Why give way signs are upside down

Warning signs usually take the shape of an equilateral triangle and are used to bring your attention to any hazards, conditions or obstacle that may be up ahead. Have you ever wondered why the equilateral ‘give way’ and ‘stop’ signs are upside down compared to all the other warning road signs? The answer is to assist you with a visual recognition by shape. So, if a ‘give way’ sign is defaced by snow, for example, the upside down triangular shape of the sign alone should be enough to inform you