What Color are Regulatory Signs?

By  //  February 1, 2020

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Traffic signs are devices placed above or beside a highway, roadway, pathway, or other routes to guide, caution, and regulate the flow of traffic so that travelers may safely reach their destinations.

Traffic signs are devices placed above or beside a highway, roadway, pathway, or other routes to guide, caution, and regulate the flow of traffic so that travelers may safely reach their destinations.

Traffic includes mainly motor vehicles but also includes bicycles, pedestrians, and equestrians. The official manual for signing in the United States is the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

The MUTCD is developed and modified by FHWA through the Federal Register rulemaking process. As a part of this process, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) submits their suggestions, recommendations, revisions, and interpretations to FHWA and other appropriate agencies, for consideration for inclusion in the MUTCD.

Signs, like all other traffic control devices, must meet five fundamental requirements:

• Fulfill a need

• Command attention

• Convey a clear, simple meaning

• Command respect from road users

• Give adequate time for proper response

All traffic safety equipment suppliers are keenly aware of these requirements when building their product lines. The shape and color of roadway signs are important indicators of the information they contain. Colors are assigned to each classification of signage, and each color signifies a different action or reference.  

What are the Regulatory Signs?

An important characteristic and significant distinction of regulatory signs are that they are used to inform road users of selected traffic laws or regulations, and indicate the applicability of the legal requirements.

They describe a range of signs that are used to indicate or enforce traffic laws, regulations, or requirements which apply either at all times or at specified times, or at specific places upon a street or highway.

For example, a “No Parking” sign between the hours of 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM prohibits parking only during those hours, when parking spaces are needed by employees in that area.

Other regulatory sign shapes include the octagon for “Stop” signs, the only sign allowed to have that shape, and an inverted triangle for “Yield” signs. 

Regulatory signs often warn you of danger ahead that may not be immediately apparent. For example, the “Do Not Enter” sign may be placed on a one-way street or a freeway off-ramp because that road contains one-way traffic coming toward you. 

The regulatory red-and-white “Yield” and “Do Not Enter” signs prohibit access or movement. Rectangular signs with the longer direction horizontal provide guidance information. 

Common Types of Regulatory Signs

Regulatory signs direct motor vehicles as well as bicycles, pedestrians, and equestrians.

Common types of regulatory road signs include:

• Stop signs

• One-Way

• Yield

• Wrong Way

• No Left/Right Turn

• Speed Limit signs

• Do Not Enter

• Reserved for Handicapped Parking

• HOV Lane

• No Parking

• No Turn on Red

• Tow Away Zone

• No U-Turn

• Hazardous Materials Prohibited

• No Trucks

• Truck Weight Limit

• No Pedestrians

• No Equestrians

Regulatory road signs also indicate mandatory movements in lanes at an intersection, and can include arrows indicating:

• Straight Ahead Only

• Right Turn Only

• Intersection Lane Control

• Two Way Left Turn Only

• Left or Through

Requirements for Regulatory Signs

Regulatory signs are to be placed at, or near, where the regulations apply, indicating the requirements imposed by the regulations. They are required to be rectangular unless otherwise specified and must be designed according to the standards for colors, shapes, and legends that are in the “Standard Highway Signs and Markings” book.

Additional requirements for regulatory signs require retroreflection (a surface, material or device that reflects light to its source) or proper illumination to show the same shape and a similar color during the day as well as at night, unless specifically stated otherwise. Street and highway lights do not meet this requirement.

Visibility is critical for the safety of the traveler as well as other drivers, construction workers, and pedestrians. Weather conditions contributing to poor visibility can also be a factor, mandating the use of retroreflective or illuminated signage to provide adequate visibility and legibility.

The responsibility for the design, placement, operation, maintenance, and uniformity of traffic control devices, including signs, ultimately rests with the public agency or the official having jurisdiction.

What Color are Regulatory Signs?

There are eight categories of traffic control signs that have been assigned colors to indicate the nature of the message. Light blue has not been allocated and remains open for future use.

These include:

• Warning signs are yellow and convey a general warning message.

• Guide signs are green, showing permitted traffic movements or directional guidance.

• Services signs are blue, indicating road user services and tourist information.

• Construction signs are orange; orange is used for warning and guidance in roadway work zones.

• Recreation signs are brown and give guidance to sites of public recreation or cultural interest.

• School Zone signs are fluorescent yellow and green, indicating school zones and pedestrian crossings.

• Incident Management signs have coral set aside for their sole use.

• Regulatory signs generally have a white background. 

However, within the regulatory sign category, there are exceptions. The following four signs have a red background with a white border and a white legend. It is important to note that the use of red on signs is strictly limited to Stop and Yield signs, as well as signs prohibiting some type of action, such as parking, turning, or walking. 

• Stop

• Yield

• Do Not Enter

• Wrong Way

Another exception is the One-Way arrow sign. The One-Way arrow sign has a black background, white border, white arrow, and black lettering. It is usually horizontal but may also be placed vertically.

Closing Thoughts

Regulatory signs provide us with more than information, they present us with road rules and traffic laws that must be obeyed. These signs are there to protect you as well as other motorists, road workers, and pedestrians. Thus, it’s critical to pay attention to them when you’re on the road!

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