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Road Rules: Know Your Signs!

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Defensive Driving Tips

Road signs are there for your safety and protection, listen to what they have to tell you! Road signs are designed to be self-explanatory and easy to follow; however, they can at times be quite confusing.
For example, we all know that a red light means stop, and a green light means go. I will confess, however, that I ran two red lights yesterday. Driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood, I was tired and hungry. My passenger was giving me haphazard directions (left”¦uh”¦right”¦uh). The radio was on. I simply didn’t see the light. While I’ll address distracted driving specifically in a later post, for now I want to give you My Cardinal Rule of Signs: they don’t work if you don’t see them. As you drive, make sure that you keep scanning above and to the side of the road in order to spot all relevant signs and lights.
I’ll begin my discussion of road signs with a brief overview of stoplights, as this appears to be a particularly troubling category for me.
*Red lights, whether they are blinking, solid, or an arrow, always mean stop. “Stop” means come to a full stop.
*Yellow lights mean slow down. Unless you are already in the intersection when the light turns, begin slowing down in order to come to a full stop at the stop line or crosswalk.
*Green lights mean go. However, there is a caveat. You can only go once the intersection is clear. If there are slow pedestrians, bikers, or other cars still in the intersection, you need to wait until they have moved on.
Now, on to signs. Each year, the Federal Highway Administration publishes a Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which explains national signage standards in great detail. If you’d like a very thorough review of traffic signs, check out their website:
I’ll provide a (much) briefer overview here. The MUTCD divides signs into six categories: regulatory signs, warning signs, guide signs, motorist service signs, construction signs, and recreation and cultural interest signs. Each category of sign uses different shapes and colors.
These signs are the signs that tell you what you must or must not do on the road. Stop signs, yield signs, one-way signs and do not enter signs all fall into this category. Other kinds of signs with white backgrounds, like parking signs, no U-turn signs, keep right signs, etc., are also regulatory signs.
Stop signs are perhaps the most common, and also most important, member of this category. Remember that the main point of a stop sign is to prevent collisions in an intersection. This means that you need to come to a full stop BEFORE the stop sign, either before the crosswalk, if there is one, or before the stop line. If you stop and then realize that you can’t see into the intersection, you can pull forward a bit to check for traffic. Only do this after you have come to a full stop, however.
You’ll also encounter stop signs that are attached to school buses. When a school bus stops, flashes its lights, and extends the stop sign, you need to stop behind the school bus and wait until the driver has signaled for you to pass and/or turned off the lights and retracted the sign. It is illegal to try to pass a school bus when its lights are on. Remember that there are likely children crossing the road!
Yield signs are another common kind of regulatory sign. Yield signs are triangular, with a red rim and white background. When you see a yield sign, slow down so that you can stop if you need to. Allow other cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians to pass before you proceed.
These signs, which always have a yellow background, are designed to warn drivers about upcoming obstacles. Most of these signs are diamond shape. Depending on the image displayed on the sign, warning signs can indicate that you are approaching a sharp curve, a pedestrian crossing, or another hazard. One of these signs is round. This is the sign that indicates a railroad crossing, and it is the only round sign in use!
These are the all-important signs that keep you from getting lost! These signs indicate the route, highway, or street that you are travelling on. These signs are often, but not always, green.
Frequently, but not necessarily, blue in color, these signs let you know what services are available on the route that you’re travelling. They indicate where you can get food, gas, and lodging, along with other important services like hospitals. On a long road trip, these signs can be a godsend!
Constructions signs are always orange diamonds. They let you know about any approaching construction hazards.
These signs are always brown. They contain information about interesting sights near the route you are travelling on, including places like national parks, museums, and monuments.
And now”¦
Don’t Be That Guy!
Many of us are tempted to speed up when we see a yellow light, in order to avoid having to stop at the red light. Resist the temptation”¦don’t be that guy! Other drivers and pedestrians will be expecting you to slow down; they may also pre-empt their own green light and/or walk sign. Don’t create a risky situation at the intersection. Always slow down as soon as the light turns yellow.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

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