Road signs are government regulated postings that serve a variety of purposes related to roads. In 1968, the Vienna Convention on Road Signs was held to promote international increases in road safety. Not all nations conform exactly to the Vienna standards, as many have their own versions of particular road signs.
The Vienna Convention laid out eight specific categories of road signs to be adopted by all nations. These categories, called A-H, include danger signs, priority signs, prohibitive signs, mandatory signs, special regulation signs, information signs, direction, position or indication signs, and a catch-all category of additional panels. The convention created specific guidelines for the color and shape of each category, but not all nations subscribe to the exact standards.
For warning or danger signs, the convention specifies that the sign must be a triangle or diamond, with a white or yellow background and red or black border. Almost all countries use this standard, including black text for maximum visibility. These road signs indicate an upcoming or nearby hazard, and are brightly colored to attract immediate attention.
Priority signs indicate right-of-way for vehicles or pedestrians. These signs are found at complicated intersections where stoplights do not dictate passage. Priority signs come in a wide variety of shape and color, depending on the action required by the sign. For instance, according to the Vienna convention, yield or give-way signs should be an inverted triangle with a red border.
Prohibitive signs describe a forbidden action and also include speed limits signs. These signs are red-bordered with a white or blue background, and may include a diagonal red slash, indicating that the action shown is not allowed. No parking, no turning, and wrong way signs are all examples of this category.
The opposite of prohibitive signs are mandatory postings, which tell vehicles or pedestrians what they must do. These signs are almost always circular, usually in blue and white or white and red. The United States and Canada do not adhere to this sign variety, considering mandatory actions as part of a regulatory category. In America, mandatory signs usually contain the word “only.”
Informational signs are usually green or blue with white text. These signs are often used to indicate distances to large cities or destinations. In the United States, informational signs usually include highway entrances and exits. Other countries also classify some informational signs as direction or position categories, though the practice varies from country to country.
The Vienna Convention was not attended by all nations, and many, including Canada and the United States, are not signatories. If you are traveling to a foreign country and plan on driving, you may wish to study their road sign practices before you get there. Most countries also require knowledge of road sign variations in order to receive a driver’s license. To learn more about your destination’s road signs, visit a governmental transportation websites that include a guide to local signs, or check travel guides for further information. Proper understanding of local road signs can save you valuable time and can help protect you from accidents and keep you from getting lost.