Most drivers learn road signs as they learn to drive and then don’t learn anything else about them for the rest of their time on the roads. So, we’ve put together this helpful guide to refresh your memory on what the road signs mean, why their shape is important and there’s even a fun road sign quiz for you to test your knowledge.
The Different Road Sign Shapes and What They Mean
In the UK there are three main shapes of signs that you will see on the road, and these are:
Each of these shapes has a different function so that drivers can quickly and easily tell what the sign is informing them of.
Generally, circular signs give you instructions, triangular signs give warnings and rectangular signs are informative.
As mentioned above circular signs give orders to drivers on the road. These orders must be obeyed.
There are a few different coloured circles that you will see on road signs. One with a white background and thick red outline like the one shown below will give you an order not to do something. Generally, the image will be of the activity that you should not do.
A blue circle, like the one on the left above, will give you mandatory instructions to follow, for example turn left. They can also be used to indicate a route available to only some road users, like buses or cyclists.
Speed Limit Road Signs
One of the most commons circular road signs that you will see is a speed limit.
These will be shown by the maximum speed you are allowed to legally travel in black on a white background with a red border around the edge.
You will also see a national speed limit sign, like the one to the right, that is a white circle with a diagonal line through it. The national speed limit varies depending on the type of road you are travelling on. In a built-up area it will be 30 mph, in a non-built up area it is 60 mph unless you are driving on a dual carriageway or motorway where it increases to 70 mph.
Typically, you will not see this limit used in built-up areas and instead a numerical value will be shown in a red border. The difference between the 60 and 70 mph limit is easy for drivers to distinguish as it is defined by the number of lanes on the road.
There are some occasions where a speed limit might be shown in a rectangular sign, where a speed limit is indicated alongside another factor drivers should be aware of. However, within the rectangle the speed limit is still usually shown in a red circle outline.
Although rarer you might also encounter a minimum speed limit. These are only used where it is dangerous for you and other road users to be travelling too slowly, for example in a tunnel where users might be exposed to vehicle fumes. These will be shown on a blue background to make it obvious that they are minimum and not maximum limits.
On the left is what you will see at the start of a minimum speed limit area and the right is what you will see once the minimum limit ends.
Triangular signs warn drivers of an upcoming danger.
These can warn of road conditions, like a steep incline / decline, junctions and speed bumps, or of animals that could appear on the road in front of you and other hazards you might encounter.
The triangle usually appears like the one on the right with a wide base and narrow point at the top so the triangle is pointing upwards.
There are a couple of exceptions, where it will be the other way around, with the triangle pointing downwards. These are usually used for a give way sign or warning of an upcoming junction you will need to give way on and are inverted to make them stand out to drivers.
Rectangular signs are usually used to communicate information to drivers that they need to know. They can provide information on upcoming services, road restrictions, distance to locations and much more.
There are three main colours that you will see rectangular signs in, based on the type of road you are travelling on, which are blue, green and white.
A less common colour you’ll see is a black sign, like the one on the bottom right in the picture below, which shows the advisory route for lorries if there are weight, width or height restrictions on the main route.
White signs are used on minor roads and green signs are used on primary roads, but both of them will provide directional information, including distance to particular places.
Blue signs serve two purposes. The first is on motorways for directional signs and information, including distances, junction information and service stations. The second use of them is to provide information to drivers in built-up areas, for example bus lane operating hours or cycle routes.
Directional Road Signs
As well as the straightforward rectangles shown above these colours will also be used on directional arrows like the ones on the right.
Again, white signs will be used on minor roads, green signs on primary roads and blue signs on motorways. Blue will also be used in built-up areas for pedestrian and cycle routes, which are usually marked by the bicycle or pedestrian icon.
Tourism Road Signs
Across the country you will see brown signs, these are used for tourist attractions and can be rectangular or directional arrow signs.
Here’s a few of the signs for tourism attractions that you might see:
If you want to test your knowledge on these then just scroll down to our tourism road sign quiz.
Temporary Road Signs
Temporary road signs will usually be used when there are road works on the approaching road, or a road has been closed and a diversion is in place.
These will always be yellow in colour.
The below image shows the signs that can be used to show a diverted route, and the different symbols are used to avoid confusion when there is more than one diversion in an area. This is common when a main trunk is closed and there are several different routes to get drivers to the correct location with minimal disruption. Directional arrows might also be used on a diversion route.
Where there are road works but the road remains open then there can be a variety of different instructions that might be given on a yellow rectangular sign. You can see some of the most common ones below:
Other Road Signs
Not all road signs fit into the categories above and these are designed to be different to make them stand out to drivers.
The first sign shown above is a stop sign. This is the only sign you will see that is a rex hexagon and you must stop at this sign.
The central sign shown is one that will let you know that you are entering a school crossing patrol area, to make you aware school children will be crossing the roads ahead.
The sign on the right indicates there are stationary speed cameras in the area, a reminder that you should be travelling at the speed limit or under or you’ll receive a penalty.
Road Sign Quiz
As well as providing you with more information on the signs you’ll see the team at Wessex Fleet have also put together these fun quizzes for you to test your knowledge on.