What Do the Colors of Road Signs Mean?

If you’ve never thought about it, you might be surprised to learn that the colors of road signs and road barricades actually are meant to convey meaning to motorists, and are not randomly selected. Each different color used on a traffic road sign has been chosen for the purpose of indicating some level of alertness or significance that the information contained on the sign will have for the driver. Continue reading to find out exactly what the specific colors of a road sign are meant to convey to drivers.

What is the Significance of Each Color?

It has always been the intention of traffic control authorities to convey as much information as quickly as possible to motorists, since the information needed could very well be time-critical. To that end, both the shape of traffic signs and the color scheme have specific meanings which motorists should be aware of, because it can impart useful information very quickly, without necessarily even reading the verbiage on the sign, or interpreting any symbols which appear on it.

This being the case, the color of all roadway signs has always been a big indicator of the kind of information which is contained on them. For instance, any red traffic sign will always mean either to stop, yield right-of-way, or it will be an indication of some kind of prohibition. White backgrounds on signs will generally mean that the sign is regulatory in nature, while yellow-colored signs are meant to convey a general warning.

Signs colored green offer directional guidance or indicate allowable traffic movements, while orange-colored signs are used for either guidance or warnings around construction sites or work zones. Signs which are colored blue convey information about road services, tourist information, and sometimes routes to be taken during an evacuation.

Signs which are colored brown offer guidance to locations of cultural interest to drivers, and sometimes provide directions to public recreation areas as well. Signs which are fluorescent green and yellow will almost always be used to indicate school zones or pedestrian crossing areas, so these are critical to remember for the sake of safety.

Once you’ve remembered the color scheme for all these various types of signs and what they are intended to convey, you’ll probably be able to understand the intent much more quickly, even before you read any message contained on the sign. It’s safe to say that the colors of road signs can be generalized into three broad groupings, those being the warm colors, the cool colors, and the neutral colors.

Warm colors like red, yellow, and orange, are used to quickly alert the driver, whereas the cool colors such as blue, green, and purple are more informative in nature, and not necessarily intended to distract or disturb the driver. The neutral colors, white, black, and brown, are also designed not to be distracting in nature, and to simply impart useful information, such as directional guidance.

Were Signs Always These Colors?

Standards for how traffic signs look, and the information contained on them have always been contained in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is a manual whose origins go back to 1935. The basic color schemes of signs set at that time are still largely in effect today, although many revisions have been made to the manual since that time.

Back in 1935, it was already decided that regulatory signs should be black on white triangles, diamond-shaped signs should be warnings to drivers, and caution signs should be square with various colorations. The traditional stop sign has had its current look since about 1924, when it was decided that white letters on a red background would be the most effective way of alerting the driver to a stop situation up ahead. The newest additions to color schemes in the manual are the cooler colors signs, which are generally used to convey information about local cultural sites of interest, recreation areas, and other important tourist information.

When Did This Become a Standard Practice?

The shapes and colors of many of our modern road signs were actually in place as early as 1922, when the first efforts at standardization were adopted by committees set up for that purpose. Two different manuals were actually developed, and these were consolidated in 1935 into the predecessor of today’s MUTCD, and many people date traffic control standardization to that time. While numerous revisions have occurred in the decades since the original publication of the manual, the main color schemes were set forth back in the original document.

Purchase High Quality Signs for Any Situation

Standardization of the color scheme and shapes of most of our modern traffic road signs was achieved early in the 20th century, and ever since that time, there have been a number of revisions to the manual which outlines that standardization. As technology emerges and traffic patterns dictate the need for new standards, the manual will undoubtedly be updated in the future to reflect all these developments.

Whenever signage is needed in support of safety requirements or traffic flow requirements, the best place to acquire any of these traffic control devices or accessories is from Worksafe Traffic Control Industries. Contact us today with any queries you might have about traffic control devices and signage, or to place an order for traffic control products needed in your community.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share this