Regulatory signs play a crucial role in traffic safety by informing drivers of traffic laws, regulations, and requirements. Understanding the colors and shapes of these signs allows drivers to quickly recognize and comply with posted regulations. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of regulatory sign color and shape requirements in the United States.
Regulatory signs are rectangular-shaped signs that inform road users of selected traffic laws or regulations and indicate the applicability of legal requirements that would not otherwise be apparent. They are designed and used to guide, warn, and regulate traffic.
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides national standards for all pavement markings, highway signs, and traffic signals in the United States. To promote highway safety and efficiency by providing for the orderly movement of road users on streets and highways, the MUTCD specifies sign sizes, shapes, colors, fonts, placement and other criteria for regulatory signs.
Regulatory Sign Colors
The MUTCD dictates the following color requirements for regulatory sign backgrounds:
- Red – Used for signs conveying stop, yield, do not enter, wrong way, or prohibition messages.
- White – Used for signs conveying parking regulations and restrictions.
- Green – Used for signs conveying guidance, direction, destinations, distances, services, and recreational or cultural interest.
- Blue – Used for signs conveying services, motorist services guidance, and evacuation route information.
- Yellow – Used for warning signs conveying general warning messages.
- Orange – Used for warning signs conveying temporary traffic control warning messages.
- Brown – Used for signs to parks, recreational, and cultural interest areas.
- Black – Used for symbols, arrows, letters, and borders on white and yellow sign backgrounds.
Additionally, fluorescent yellow-green backgrounds may be used for school warning signs. Black legends are typically used with all background colors except for red. Red legends are used with red backgrounds.
Regulatory Sign Shapes
Regulatory signs have standard distinctive shapes that correspond to their functions. The MUTCD specifies the following standardized shapes:
|Sign Shape||Regulatory Message Conveyed|
|Equilateral triangle (point down)||Yield|
|Rectangle (horizontal)||Traffic regulation, restriction, or prohibition|
|Pennant||No passing zone|
|Pentagon||School advance warning sign|
|Crossbuck||Grade crossing advance warning|
|Rectangle (vertical)||Temporary traffic control|
Some common regulatory sign examples include:
- STOP – Octagonal with white letters on red background
- YIELD – Red and white upward pointing triangle
- DO NOT ENTER – White letters on red background
- WRONG WAY – White legend on red background
- SPEED LIMIT – Black numbers on white rectangular background
- NO U-TURN – Black letters and arrow on white background
Right-of-way regulatory signs establish the right-of-way rule at intersections and other roadway junctions where drivers need to know who has the right-of-way. They are generally rectangular in shape with a white legend on a red background. Some common examples include:
|STOP||Come to a complete stop and yield right-of-way to cross traffic and pedestrians before proceeding|
|YIELD||Slow down to yield the right-of-way to cross vehicular and pedestrian traffic|
|ALL WAY||Traffic from all directions must stop|
Prohibitory signs indicate certain types of vehicles, maneuvers, or actions that are not permitted. They have a black symbol or message on a white background with a red circle and slash. Some common prohibitory regulatory sign examples include:
|NO LEFT TURN||Left turns not allowed|
|NO U TURN||U-turns not allowed|
|NO TRUCKS||Trucks excluded from roadway or section of roadway|
|NO BICYCLES||Bicyclists prohibited from roadway or facility|
Permissive signs convey permitted actions that are not mandatory. They often establish conditional requirements for certain maneuvers to improve safety and operations. Typical permissive regulatory signs include:
|RIGHT TURN ON RED AFTER STOP||Right turn allowed after coming to complete stop|
|LEFT ON GREEN ARROW ONLY||Left turn only allowed when green arrow signal displayed|
|U-TURN YIELD TO RIGHT TURN||U-turn permitted after yielding to right-turning vehicles|
Parking and Standing Signs
Parking and standing regulatory signs convey parking restrictions and prohibitions. They use white legends on rectangular blue or red backgrounds. Some examples include:
|NO PARKING||Parking prohibited at all times|
|NO PARKING ON PAVEMENT||Parking prohibited on paved portion of roadway|
|2 HOUR PARKING 8 AM – 6 PM||2 hour parking limit between 8am-6pm|
Speed Limit Signs
Speed limit signs inform drivers of the maximum legal speed they are permitted to travel on that section of roadway. They have black numerals on a white rectangular background. Some examples include:
|SPEED LIMIT 55||Maximum speed 55 mph|
|TRUCKS SPEED LIMIT 45||Maximum truck speed 45 mph|
|NIGHT SPEED LIMIT 40||Nighttime speed limit 40 mph|
Movement Prohibition Signs
Movement prohibition signs restrict certain movements at intersections or other roadway junctions. They have white arrow symbols on rectangular red backgrounds. Some examples are:
|NO LEFT TURN||Left turns prohibited|
|NO STRAIGHT THROUGH||Straight through movement prohibited|
|NO U-TURN||U-turns prohibited|
Lane Use Control Signs
Lane use signs regulate the direction or type of traffic allowed to use designated lanes. They have white symbols or messages on black backgrounds. Some examples are:
|Sign||Lane Use Restriction|
|RIGHT LANE MUST TURN RIGHT||Traffic in right lane must turn right|
|CENTER LANE ONLY||Only traffic in center lane permitted|
|TRANSIT LANE||Lane reserved for transit vehicles|
Understanding regulatory traffic sign colors and shapes is critical for road users. Red signs convey stop, yield, restriction, and prohibition messages. Circular and triangular shapes assign right-of-way. White, black, and blue signs convey parking rules, speed limits, and guidances. Distinct colors and standardized shapes allow regulatory signs to be identified and understood quickly to improve compliance and roadway safety.