Skip to Content

Are white or red signs regulate?

Traffic signs play a vital role in regulating traffic flow and ensuring safety on our roads. While there are many different types of traffic signs, two of the most common categories are white and red signs. But which color of sign is considered regulatory – white or red?

Purpose of Traffic Signs

Before diving into the specifics of white and red traffic signs, it’s helpful to understand the overall purpose of traffic signs. According to the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), traffic signs serve to provide regulations, warnings, and guidance information to road users. Signs regulate behavior, bring attention to road conditions, and guide travelers along their routes.

Well-designed and placed traffic signs allow for orderly, predictable traffic flow. They create expectations for drivers and pedestrians, reducing confusion and increasing safety. The use of colors, shapes, symbols, and words on traffic signs helps quickly convey their meaning and importance.

White Traffic Signs

White traffic signs provide regulation information to road users. According to the MUTCD, white signs are used for regulations that require mandatory compliance by road users. Some examples of white regulatory signs include:

  • Stop signs
  • Yield signs
  • Speed limit signs
  • Do not enter signs
  • One way signs
  • No turn signs

The white background color helps convey the mandatory, non-discretionary nature of these signs. Drivers must obey the instructions provided on a white regulatory sign. Violating the rule displayed on a white sign will usually constitute a traffic violation.

Red Traffic Signs

Red traffic signs are also regulatory in nature. According to the MUTCD, red signs indicate that traffic is prohibited from performing the action shown on the sign. Red signs convey that a traffic law exists that must be obeyed. Some examples of red regulatory signs are:

  • No parking signs
  • No left turn signs
  • No trucks signs
  • No bicycles signs
  • No pedestrian crossing signs

The red color helps grab drivers’ attention and highlights the prohibitory nature of the sign. Like white signs, failing to follow the instructions on a red regulatory sign constitutes a traffic violation.

Similarities Between White and Red Signs

Though they use different colors, white and red regulatory signs share some key similarities:

  • They provide mandatory, legally enforceable instructions.
  • Drivers must obey them in order to avoid traffic citations.
  • They help regulate road user behavior.
  • They increase safety when followed properly.

Both white and red signs are considered “regulatory” because they provide legally binding rules for traffic behavior. Fines and penalties can result from disobeying the instructions displayed on either color of sign.

Differences Between White and Red Signs

While white and red signs are both regulatory, there are some subtle differences between the two colors:

  • White signs tell you want to do – they provide positive mandatory instructions like “turn right” or “keep right”.
  • Red signs tell you what not to do – they prohibit specific actions like “no left turn” or “no parking”.
  • White signs are usually placed where the instruction applies – for example, stop signs are positioned at intersections where vehicles must stop.
  • Red signs are often placed in advance of where the prohibition applies – such as “no parking” signs placed before a stretch of road where parking is prohibited.

So while both colors of signs regulate driver behavior, white signs tend to provide positive instructions for actions to take while red signs forbid specific maneuvers.


Here are some examples that illustrate the differences between white and red regulatory signs:

Type of Sign Example Meaning
White Stop Come to a complete stop at an intersection
White Speed Limit 25 Do not drive over 25 mph on this road
Red No Turn on Red It is prohibited to turn right or left on a red light
Red No Parking Parking is prohibited in this area

Legal Requirements

Both white and red regulatory signs are legally binding. The MUTCD provides standards for placement, design, and use of white and red signs. Failure to obey the instructions on regulatory signs is illegal:

  • Running a stop sign – white regulatory sign – results in a moving violation.
  • Parking where a no parking – red regulatory sign – is posted results in a parking citation.

Enforcement of traffic rules depends on police observation of violations. Fines, license suspensions, and other legal consequences can result from disobeying white or red signs.

Prevalence in the United States

White regulatory signs are extremely common throughout the United States. Stop signs, yield signs, speed limit signs, one way signs, and do not enter signs in white are ubiquitous. Red prohibitory signs are also widespread, especially in urban and suburban areas. No turn, no parking, and no trucks signs in red are seen on roads across the country.

Both colors of regulatory signs are invaluable for promoting safety and orderly traffic flow on US streets and highways. Their pervasive presence reflects their importance as legally binding instructions.

Variations Between Jurisdictions

While the national MUTCD provides standards, some jurisdictions create their own variations of regulatory signs. For example:

  • New York City uses a red “stand back” sign at subway entrances rather than white “do not enter” signs.
  • Seattle uses orange “no parking” signs rather than the typical red.
  • Localities may customize signs by adding city names or municipal codes.

But in general, white and red colors for regulatory signs are consistent across the country due to the widespread adoption of the MUTCD.


In summary, both white and red traffic signs are considered regulatory. They provide legally binding instructions that road users are required to obey. However, white signs tend to provide positive directives while red signs prohibit specific maneuvers. All regulatory signs, whether white or red, must be followed to avoid traffic violations and ensure safety on the road.

Though specifics may vary between jurisdictions, the ubiquitous presence of white and red regulatory signs across the United States highlights their importance. Understanding the difference between white instructional signs and red prohibitory signs makes drivers more knowledgeable and roads safer for everyone sharing the street.