Sign of the times?

Blog post posted on 19/06/19 |

You’ve all experienced it - you’re running late, not sure where you are … ah yes a road sign! Where’s my town? Oh it’s gone! And I didn’t take it in at all, yikes!

Well never fear, there is a way of making sure signs don’t confuse you again.

When dealing with two different road signs on a single post, always work from the top down – the top one will be the most important and closest hazard to deal with.

Back to basics – perhaps we all need a reminder about what the shape of signs mean not just what a particular sign might mean, if we knew this it would give us a head start in figuring out what we are meant to do.

The shape and colour of the sign can be an important part of the meaning and reduce any confusion. 

Basically round signs which give orders are either blue or white with a red ring around them – the blue ones are generally a mandatory instruction such as turn left or buses and cyclists only and a round sign with a red border are things you must not do, i.e. you must not exceed the stated speed limit. 

Triangle signs are warning signs and point upwards with the exception of the give way sign which is the other way around and points down - very useful if there has been a lot of snow and you can’t see the road markings or read the signs, you will still know there is a give way sign there because of its shape. This is why the stop sign is a different shape too.

Rectangle signs inform people and generally give all different types of information. Brown rectangle signs are particularly important to tourists and those having a fun day out as they let you know where the interesting sites are and can sometimes direct you to a particular establishment.

In the same way as we classify roads, signs have a similar system this helps us know what type of road we are on. 

Roads with green signs are ‘A’ roads primary routes that go from town to town, if you are not on an ‘A’ road you might see a sign which has a place name on it followed by a green rectangle with the ‘A’ road number in it – this will tell you that going this particular way will take you on a primary route and go to the place named on the sign.

Motorway signs are of course blue and local roads will have white signs – something to think about when you get to a junction which has a choice of roads to your destination.

Obviously the best way to keep up with what our road signs mean is to keep up to date and look at the Highway Code regularly – getting to know and understand traffic signs can remove some stress out of your journey.

Information is not just given on road signs, they should be used in combination with any road markings and other visual clues as these help you see the bigger picture.

Road markings can tell you a lot about what is happening ahead, for example, short white lines with big gaps in the centre of the carriageway are normal centre line markings, however when these change to long line and small gaps, they change their meaning to hazard lines which mean there is something you need to be aware of. The shape of trees overhanging the road are normally this shape because of large vehicles.

If you come across a sign you are not sure of, try to remember what it looked like so you can research it when you get to a safe place, however at that moment you should proceed with caution and look for other visual clues. 

Avoid changing direction at the last minute. If you miss a junction or go the wrong way because of an unclear sign, try not to panic, find a safe place to turn around and simply go back to where you went wrong and try again, if this is on a motorway just take the next exit and come back on the other carriageway to your chosen junction. 

We understand going the wrong way is annoying but unfortunately everyone does it at some stage, the secret is to not let it bother you and deal with it in a calm manner.

Keeping calm is the key. And happy motoring!

By Rebecca Ashton, IAM RoadSmart head of policy and research