Understanding Road Signs 认识美国的路标

Understanding Road Signs

Roadway signs in the United States increasingly use symbols rather than words to convey their message. Symbols provide instant communication with roadway users, overcome language barriers, and are becoming standard for traffic control devices throughout the world. Familiarity with symbols on traffic signs is important for every road user in order to maintain the safety and efficiency of our transportation facilities.

The color of roadway signs is an important indicator of the information they contain. The use of red on signs is limited to stop, yield, and prohibition signs. A white background indicates a regulatory sign; yellow conveys a general warning message; green shows permitted traffic movements or directional guidance; fluorescent yellow/green indicates pedestrian crossings and school zones; orange is used for warning and guidance in roadway work zones; coral is used for incident management signs; blue indicates road user services, tourist information, and evacuation routes; and brown is for guidance to sites of public recreation or cultural interest.

Sign shape can also alert roadway users to the type of information displayed on a sign. Traffic regulations are conveyed in signs that are rectangular with the longer direction vertical or square. Additional regulatory signs are octagons for stop and inverted triangles for yield. Diamond-shaped signs signify warnings. Rectangular signs with the longer direction horizontal provide guidance information. Pentagons indicate school zones. A circular sign warns of a railroad crossing. The illustration below shows how the shape and color of a sign indicate the nature of the message. 

Examples of signs:

Prepared in 2002 by the US Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration Office of Transportation Operations

Here's what you need to know if you are planning an American road trip for your next vacation:

        If you're driving slowly - perhaps just getting used to the traffic - the best lane for you to drive in is the far right lane, if there is more than one lane going in the same direction as you, of course!

        When traveling on a freeway or highway, your car should stay in the right lane, unless you're passing another vehicle. There are often signs to remind you of this. However, be aware that on Interstate highways, the right lane within an urban area is sometimes only for exiting (leaving) the Interstate at the next opportunity. 

        If you're at an intersection, American drivers usually defer to the vehicle who arrived at the intersection first. If two vehicles get there at the same time, the driver on the right proceeds, unless stopped by a red STOP or YIELD sign.

        Don't honk your horn, unless you're in a situation where you need to get the attention of another driver or pedestrian. For example, it's okay to honk when another car is about to hit you, but you may find that honking in the USA is less common than in other nations.

        The speed limit in a residential area is often 35 miles per hour (60kph), but is as low as 25 or 30 miles per hour in many areas. On Interstate highways and roads with very little traffic and intersections, the speed limit is commonly 55 miles per hour or greater.

        Based on the information released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about “Traffic Safety Facts 2015: Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” it revealed  that 10,265 people have died in drunk driving crashes - one every 51 minutes - and 290,000 were injured in drunk driving crashes. Remember to always make allowances when driving, and never ever exceed the legal blood alcohol limit which is 0.08.

For other current U.S. resident (non-citizen) planning a road trip, remember that each state has different requirements for obtaining a U.S. driver's license. You may want to check USA.gov for info about the state you reside in. Once you have a U.S. license from your state motor vehicle department, you are free to drive in all U.S. states including Alaska and Hawaii. However, remember that the driving laws in each state differ slightly. It's always up to you to research and learn the laws of the state where you are driving! 


Discussion Questions:

  1. What street signs from the ones listed in the article look new or strange to you?
  2. Did you have any surprises or unexpected confusion when you first started driving in America?
  3. What is the biggest difference in how road signs of the US compared to your home country?


















  1. 本文中的哪一些交通标志对你来说是未曾见过的?
  2. 在你初到美国驾车的时候,是否曾经对交通标志感到困惑或者奇怪?
  3. 美国的交通标志与你国家的交通标志有哪些地方是绝然不同的?