Road Signs

Approximately 2 minutes reading time

One aspect of road use that you will have become aware of at age is that of road signs. If you completed a cycling proficiency test in primary school, you will have had a rudimentary introduction into road markings and road signs and children that have endured long journeys in their parent’s car will have grown up observing road signs along the way. Regardless it is not possible to have lived your life in the UK and not to have noticed road signs in some form or shape.

The modern road sign emerged when cycling became sufficiently widespread for clubs and organisations to become common. As transport developed and eventually repeated the pattern with automobiles, it became the norm for clubs and associations to follow suit developing road signs too.

Eventually, a standard was achieved and what we have today has been pretty much mainstream for over eighty years. There have been a few changes here and there, but the original designs involving shape and colour and the application of their relevance has not changed much since our grandparent’s time.

Signs in the UK are divided into different categories as follows:


Directional signs

These signs, as their name suggests provide a guide for directions. There are advanced directional signs and directional signs. An advanced directional sign will appear before the road it is meant to indicate and can be either blue, green or white, depending on the status of the road on which it has been placed. Motorways are blue, primary routes are green and non-primary routes are white. The typeface colour depends on the colour of the background. It is usually white on signs with a blue and a green background and black on signs with a white background. Routes are shown with the background of the colour of the road status


Warning signs

Warning signs are used to raise awareness of specific hazards on that particular route. They are triangular with a red border.


Regulatory sings

These signs are round and are signs that either prohibit or permit an action on the road. Most of these signs have a red border and are prohibitive regardless of whether there is a red line across the sign or not. Some of these signs are placed on a board that is rectangular in shape because they are accompanied by additional relevant information. The two exceptions to this rule are the yield or give way sign which is an inverted triangle and the stop sign which is hexagonal. Even in the event they are defaced or the information is not visible they are still recognisable for their purpose.

Information signs

These are overall, either oblong or rectangular and one may argue that directional signs would fall into this category too. Although they usually coloured according to the status of the road on which they are found, there are exceptions. These are for signs that are coloured white on blue such as the IN and OUT signs seen on roads with all statuses.


Diversion signs

Occasionally a route must be closed off and an alternative route with diversion signs has to be set up. These diversion signs have a yellow background with the directions markers in black. These signs can be shaped as a square, triangle, circle or diamond.


Location identifiers.

A long, long time ago these were called milestones and would show the distance to a particular destination. As motorways and roads have developed, a system using markers has identified particular locations along the route. The emergency phones along the route always used the number of the location marker at which it was placed to enable swift action to provide assistance.

With the introduction of mobile phones, callers are now asked to use these signs in order to identify the information required in an emergency. When a caller makes an emergency call from a motorway and some primary routes they will be asked for the reference number on the nearest marker. This will identify their exact location.


Street names

Street names are not legally recognised as signs. This enables local councils to design and develop their street naming policy in line with the local heritage and structure of the neighbourhood. While in most cases the transport font is used, the Serif typeface is also used and there are no regulations preventing this.

Road signs and your test.

You will have to be able to understand and identify road signs in your theory test. It doesn’t end there, however. Your examiner may well ask you what road sign you have just passed to ensure that you are aware of your surroundings. You may also need to explain the difference between triangular and circular signs and different colours.

So be prepared.

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