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Understanding Road Signs

By: Tracy Wilkinson - Updated: 27 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Danger Warning Signs Road Signs Priority

When the Romans came to town, amongst the other things they got up to, they put up stone columns throughout their vast empire telling everyone how far away Rome was. This tradition was carried on and expanded through to the Middle Ages, where signs at junctions and major cross-country roads gave directions and mileage to cities and towns.

With the introduction of cars, traffic signs became more of a necessity. In Rome in 1908 the International Road Congress set the basic patterns of most traffic signs; however there have of course been some huge changes from then up to the present day.

Technology continues to move forward and over the last few years we have seen the introduction of a new generation of traffic signs that can now change their messages dependant on the circumstances. Most motorways in the UK have big electronic displays that can warn of a queue at the next junction, or that tiredness can kill.

Most countries have a system of signage, and since language can be a barrier to understanding international road signs, there have been several symbols developed and introduced in Europe to take the place of words.

The current system of signage goes back to 1968 and the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (1968) where it was agreed that there are eight different categories of road signs:

  1. Danger warning signs
  2. Priority Signs
  3. Prohibitory or restrictive signs
  4. Mandatory Signs
  5. Special Regulation Signs
  6. Information, Facilities or Service Signs
  7. Direction, Position or Indication Signs
  8. Additional Panels
Traffic signs in the UK go mostly hand in hand with European codes, although there are a number of signs that are unique to Britain. The current signing system in the UK was introduced on January 1 1965 and Britain is the only member of the EU that still uses Imperial measurements for distance and speed.

Colour Schemes:

Three main colour schemes are in play for direction signs. A road can be a motorway (which is indicated by white on blue), a primary route (indicated by white on dark green with route numbers in yellow), or a non-primary route (indicated by black on white). Trunk roads are signed as primary routes.

Easy to Remember:

There are so many road signs about that it can be confusing to figure out what they all mean. But there is a quite simple way of remembering what the different types of signage mean.

As with any rule, there are always exceptions - but it's a good rule of thumb to go by if you can remember the following:

  • Signs with a red circular border are usually 'giving orders' and are mostly prohibitive.
    Example: maximum speed limit/no vehicles.

  • Signs with a red triangular border are usually warning signs.
    Example: give way/two way traffic ahead.

  • Signs with a blue circle but no red usually contain 'positive instruction'
    Example: One way arrows/cycle lane.

  • Mostly rectangular signs with blue background - directional.

  • Signs on primary routes with green background - directional.

  • Signs on non-primary and local routes - black borders - directional

  • Signs with yellow are usually advising of road works.

  • Brown signs usually indicate places of interest
    Example : Zoo/Bridgewater Hall/Millennium Stadium.

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I'd like to know about the yellow rectangular signs that are seen with a black diamond or black sphere on.What do they mean and are there any others likethis.I can not find images of them anywhere but I have often seen them and wonder if they have anything to do with holiday destinations.
sued - 14-Sep-11 @ 8:19 PM
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