How Well Do You Know Your Road Signs?

Joselyn, Heywise Staff
By Joselyn, Heywise Staff

You don't have to be a licensed driver to recognize and interpret the most common traffic signs. Anyone who has ever sat in a car on the open road can attest to the different types of signage that fly past the car windows. Some signs are self-explanatory, like those that tell you about a famous landmark or direct you to exit ramps. Other traffic signs, however, are less obvious and depict a symbol or illustration to communicate their message. Unless you recently studied for a written exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles, chances are you're a bit rusty on the finer details of a driver's education. Regardless, it's still a driver's responsibility to know the rules and laws of the road for everyone's safety. How do you measure up when it comes to knowing road rules and interpreting traffic signs? Are you a roadway warrior ready to take the best (and safest) trip on the interstate, or are you a backseat driver who could use a study session?

History lesson

Fascinating facts about road signs

  • The first road signs were stones: Road signs have been around for a long time. The first known road signs were milestones placed by the Romans, which were essentially stones that indicated the distance to Rome.
  • The STOP sign wasn't always red: The STOP sign we know today wasn't always red with white letters. In fact, it was yellow with black letters until the 1950s because red dyes faded over time. However, with the invention of fade-resistant red dyes, the STOP sign changed to its current color scheme.
  • The UK's oldest road sign is over 400 years old: The oldest known road sign in the UK is a stone pillar in the village of Stanton Drew, which dates back to 1699. It's still standing today!
  • Road signs can be a form of art: In the town of Úžice in the Czech Republic, a local artist has turned the town's road signs into works of art, adding a unique touch to the town's streets.
  • Road markings have a language of their own: Road markings are just as important as road signs. For example, a solid white line indicates that you should not cross it, while a broken white line means you can cross with caution.
  • The first electric traffic light was installed in 1914: The first electric traffic light was installed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914. It had two colors, red and green, and a buzzer to warn drivers of color changes.
  • Traffic lights were originally manually operated: Before they were automated, traffic lights were manually operated by traffic officers. They would switch the lights according to the traffic flow.
  • The first three-color traffic light was invented by a policeman: The first three-color traffic light was invented by a police officer named Lester Wire in Salt Lake City in 1912. He used red, amber, and green lights, which are still in use today.
  • The first "No Left Turn" sign was installed in Buffalo, New York, in 1916. This was in response to a high number of head-on collisions.
  • The first pedestrian signals were introduced in the 1930s: The first pedestrian signals were introduced in the 1930s to help pedestrians cross the road safely. These signals have evolved over time and now include countdown timers and audible signals for visually impaired individuals.

Did you know?

Road signs use shape and color to help drivers

Highway directional and warning signs are supposed to catch your eye and be instantly recognizable, but did you know that the Department of Transportation uses shapes and color coding to help you make these connections? The most recognizable shape is the octagon, the universal symbol for a stop sign. No other traffic sign uses this distinct, 8-sided polygon, but others will use red when warning drivers to yield, stop, or not enter a roadway. Warning signs use a diamond shape to warn drivers of upcoming hazards or road conditions that require additional attention or caution.

These signs are usually yellow but may also be orange within a construction zone. Construction and maintenance zones exclusively use orange signage, so drivers should slow down when seeing signs in this bright hue. School zone signs are another brightly colored sign that drivers should keep an eye out for. These fluorescent yellow or green pentagon-shaped markers let you know when to slow down for children, while blue rectangle signs identify disabled person parking. Regulatory traffic signs — like guide signs, speed limit signs, recreation area identifiers, and interstate signs, are also rectangular and use black, white, green, and blue.

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