Warning sign

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"Warning Sign" redirects here. For other uses, see Warning Sign (disambiguation).
For a sign on a vehicle or building relating to it or its contents, see placard.
Exhibit mostly of various warning signs, Turin automotive museum (some regulatory signs like Do Not Enter also visible).

A traffic warning sign is a type of traffic sign that indicates a hazard ahead on the road that may not be readily apparent to a driver.[1]

In most countries, they usually take the shape of an equilateral triangle with a white background and a thick red border. However, both the color of the background and the color and thickness of the border varies from country to country.

In the People's Republic of China (except for Macau and Hong Kong), warning signs appear with a black border and a yellow background. In Sweden, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Finland, Iceland, the Republic of Macedonia and Poland, they have a red border with an amber background. The polar bear warning sign in Svalbard recently changed from displaying a black bear on white background to a white bear on black background (both signs are triangular with a red border). Some countries (like France, Norway, Spain) that normally use a white background have adopted an orange or amber background for road work or construction signs.

Warning signs in some countries have a diamond shape in place of the standard triangular shape. In the United States, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, most of South America, and also Ireland (diverging from the standards of the rest of Europe) use warning signs are black on a yellow background and usually diamond-shaped, while temporary signs (which are typically construction signs) are black on an orange background. Some other countries also use these standards for some signage.

The warning signs usually contain a symbol. In Europe they are based on the UNECE Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. In the United States they are based on the MUTCD standard and often contain text only.

History[edit]

17th century sign along Salvador Street in Alfama says "Year of 1686. His Majesty commands all coaches, seges and litters coming from Salvador's entrance to back up to the same part"
British specimen, circa 1860s.
Early Czech warning signs (circa mid-1930s). The blue signs were later supplanted with red-white-black signs.
Pre-standardization British School Zone with metal-cutout generic Warning symbol embellished with red glass reflector-spheres.

Some of the first roadside signs —ancient milestones— merely gave distance measures. Hazard warnings were rare though occasional specimens appeared, such as the specific warning about horse-drawn vehicles backing up which was carved in stone in Lisbon's Alfama neighborhood in 1686. The early signs did not have high-contrast lettering and their messages might have been easily overlooked. Signs were written in the local language (example); symbolic signs, though long used on certain tradesmen's signs (like the pawnbrokers' tri-ball symbol) were to be used for traffic only much later in history.

Complex signage systems emerged with the appearance of motorcars. In 1908 the automobile association in West London erected some warning signs. In 1909, nine European governments agreed on the use of four pictorial symbols, indicating bump, curve, intersection, and railroad crossing. The intensive work on international road signs that took place between 1926 and 1949 eventually led to the development of the European road sign system.

As the 20th century progressed and also as traffic volume and vehicle speeds increased, sign-visibility and nighttime use capability gained significance. Earlier flat painted signs gave way to signs with embossed letters. Circa 1940-50 in countries with many vehicles, wording might be spelled out with so-called "button copy" —letters dotted with reflective glass spheres for night visibility. Button copy signs with plastic pips rather than glass appeared in the 1970s. Flat metal signs reappeared in the 1980s with the widespread use of surfaces covered with retroflective sheeting materials like Scotchlite.

In Europe, the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (which became effective in 1978) tried, among other things, to standardize important signs. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and greater ease of country-to-country driving in the Eurozone, European countries moved toward lessening the regional differences in warning signs.

In modern regulations, U.S. warning signs are classified as Series W signs, such as: W1 Series (curves and turns), W2 Series (intersections), W22 Series (blasting), et cetera, ending with the W25 Series (concerning extended green traffic lights). Some U.S. warning signs are without category while others like the warning stripes at tunnel portals or plain red End of Roadway signs are classified as Object Markers (OM Series). In the U.S., Stop and speed limit signs fall under the R Series (Regulatory). Modern U.S. signs are widely standardized; unless they are antique holdovers from an earlier era, oddities like a yellow Stop sign or a red Slippery When Wet sign would typically appear only on private property —perhaps at a hospital campus or in a shopping mall parking lot.

Street sign theft by pranksters, souvenir hunters, and scrappers has become problematic: removal of warning signs can contribute to traffic collisions and also costs municipalities money to replace lost signs. Some authorities affix theft-deterrence stickers to the back sides of their signs. Some jurisdictions have criminalized unauthorized possession of road signs or have outlawed their resale to scrap metal dealers. In come cases, thieves whose sign-removal lead to road fatalities have been charged with manslaughter.[2][3][4] Artistically inclined vandals sometimes paint additional details onto warning signs: a beer bottle, a handgun, or a boom box added to the outstretched hand of the Pedestrian Crossing person, for example.

Modern warning sign shapes and colors[edit]

Warning signs can indicate any potential hazard, obstacle or condition requiring special attention. Some of the most common warning signs are the following.

General caution[edit]

General warning signs are used in instances in which the particular hazard, obstacle or condition is not covered by a standard sign. In Europe, they usually comprise an exclamation mark on the standard triangular sign (Unicode #9888: ) with an auxiliary sign below in the local language identifying the hazard, obstacle or condition. In countries using diamond-shaped signs, the explanatory language is often written directly on the diamond-shaped sign, although it may contain only a general warning such as "Caution", and pictograms may also be used.

Obstacles[edit]

Diamond-shaped with reflectors are placed at point of curbs, dividers, or other lane obstacles. Rectangular signs with diagonal stripes indicate solid objects such as barricades, bridge abutments, utility poles or natural obstacles near the roadway. Left side obstacles are marked with stripes running high to low, left to right; right side obstacle signs use stripes running high to low, right to left; in a sense akin to International symbol of arrow pointing down toward side toward roadway.

Animals crossing the roadway[edit]

Signs may warn of wild animals (moose, bear, elk, deer, reindeer, polar bears, camels, wallabies, kangaroos, alligators, etc.) or farm animals (cows, horses, ducks, sheep) that may stray onto the road. In the United States, a SHARE THE ROAD plaque is sometimes placed below these warning signs when used in this manner.

Unusual vehicles in roadway[edit]

Also equipment (tractors, forklifts, snowmobiles, Amish buggies etc.) crossing or traveling along the road.

Road works or construction[edit]

These signs are often temporary in nature and used to indicate road works (construction), poor roads, or temporary conditions ahead on the road including: flagmen, survey crew, single-lane, detour, bridge out, utility crew ahead, blasting area, bump, dip, frost heaves, flooding (or "High water"), soft shoulder, uneven pavement, freshly oiled road, loose gravel, smoke on road, trucks entering, etc. (note that some high water signs are posted to alert drivers of a flood prone area and do not actually mean that there is a flooded section of road ahead) In France, Italy, Spain, Norway etc., warning (and speed limit) signs connected with road works have yellow background, these countries normally have white background on signs. In America and Ireland, signs connected with road works have orange background.


Curves and corners[edit]

These signs indicate that ahead are dangerous or unexpected bends in the road, some being continuous, others being sharp-ended. Signs may indicate whether the curves are to the right or to the left and whether the degree to which the curves or bends are sharp. They may also indicate a series of curves or bends ahead.

Chevrons and arrows[edit]

Chevron shaped symbols or arrows on rectangular signs may be placed at the actual location of the bend or curve to further mark the location of the curve and to assist in negotiation of the curve. They may also be used to indicate "merge" with other traffic, as for an on-ramp of a limited-access highway.

An unusual occurrence of the rectangular arrow sign appears on the eastbound approach to Dead Man's Curve in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, a curve so sharp that in places an arrow's stem is printed on one sign and the arrow's point is printed on another larger sign further down the road; from the driver's perspective at a distance the two signs visually blend together to form one large arrow image.


Tunnels[edit]

The signs are used to indicate tunnels, where lights are usually required, and a general change in the light level. May also indicate low ceiling clearance. Truck drivers should also watch for prohibited cargo signs (e.g., Hazmat, propane, explosives) upon approach to tunnels.

Bridges[edit]

These signs are used where traffic may be constricted to a narrow bridge, or where the bridge may have a movable span closed to vehicles while boats pass (e.g., drawbridge or floating bridge). They may also be used for underpass to indicate low overhead clearance.

Traffic signals[edit]

These warning signs indicate that traffic lights are ahead, and are often used when it is difficult to see that a traffic light may already be showing red, to warn a driver to prepare to slow down. They may be supplemented with flashing light or lighted sign when light is red or turning red. Some countries also have signs warning of signals for ramp meters, fire stations, and airfields.

Warning signs for regulatory signs[edit]

As for traffic signals, above, some "stop" or "yield" signs may require additional warning or reminder, especially in dense areas or where the sign has been added recently.

Level crossings and intersections[edit]

These signs warn of road crossings at even level (crossroads, T-intersection, forks (Y-intersection), rotary/roundabout). They may also indicate "hidden driveway" intersecting the road ahead. (Compare with bridges/overpasses/viaducts).

Lane starts and ends[edit]

These signs indicate when a multilane highway is being narrowed, when a passing lane is ending, or where the road is widening or a passing lane starting. Another type of sign is used to indicate central "two-way" left turning lane in center of roadway. Warning signs may also warn of "Highway ends", where the road changes class or type.

Merge to stay with through traffic[edit]

In the United States and Canada, there is special signage for lanes that are about to exit, so that drivers who wish to remain on the main road have adequate time to merge. Such lanes are sometimes indicated by special striping ("alligator stripes") and the sign, "Thru Traffic Merge Left" (or right). On freeways, the green directions sign for the exit ramp may have the additional notation, "Exit Only," and should have black letters on a yellow background for emphasis.

Roads with one entry point[edit]

Roadways that only have one entry/exit point - "dead end", "not a through street" or "no outlet".

End of Roadway[edit]


Pedestrian crossings[edit]

The signs are used to warn drivers of people walking in the street. They may also be used to warn of children playing, playgrounds, bicycle area, deaf child, blind pedestrians, and thickly settled zones where pedestrians may enter the road.

In California, United States near the Mexican border, there are warning signs showing a running family. This is to warn motorists to look out for illegal immigrants who try to escape authorities by running through freeway traffic. The symbol was created by California Department of Transportation employee John Hood in the late 1980s.[5]

Schools[edit]

The signs mark school zones (in which lower speed limits may be in place), student crossings, crossing guards or signals ahead. In the U.S. and Canada, pentagon shaped signs are used in place of the usual diamond-shaped signs. The shape of the U.S. school zone resembles a one-room school house and is the only U.S. sign shaped this way. Some Canadian provinces use an identical sign. Ontario uses a white on blue version of this sign.[6]

Bicycle[edit]

Other signs with unprotected people[edit]

Fire stations[edit]

These signs warn of approach to where firefighters may be entering the road with fire engines or other emergency apparatus, where other drivers will have to stop and wait until they pass.

Oncoming traffic[edit]

The signs may be used to warn people of oncoming traffic; shown when a motorway becomes a dual carriageway or a normal road without a central reservation or median.

Level crossing/Railway crossing[edit]

These signs are used to warn of level crossings ahead. In most countries a red triangle warning sign is used, with various pictograms for unguarded crossings, crossings with manual gates, and automatic level crossings. In most of Europe an old style gate is used for a crossing with gates, and a steam locomotive for a crossing without gates. Germany uses an electric train. Similar pictograms are also used in Ireland albeit on an amber diamond sign. In the United States the warning of all types of railway crossings is made using a circular yellow sign. The actual crossing is also marked with crossed "Railroad Crossing" crossbuck signs (Stop, look, listen) and possibly lights, bells, and barriers.

Falling rocks[edit]

These signs may be used to indicate the hazards of fallen or falling rocks on the road ahead. They are usually pictographs, but may also include wording, such as "fallen rock", "falling rock", or "rock slide". In Italy the words may be "caduta sassi" or "caduta massi"; in France "chûte de pierres"; in Mexico "derrumbes".

Other warnings (aircraft-related)[edit]

For example, a warning sign with the image of an aircraft in the middle of it indicates an airport or airfield, where drivers should be prepared for low-flying aircraft.

Crosswinds or Side winds[edit]

Flying socks, as indicated by a windsock on red triangle or yellow diamond signs, indicate locations where a strong side wind may cause the trajectory of the moving vehicle to change drastically, perhaps even "flying" across lanes, causing an accident.


Road conditions[edit]

"Slippery when wet", "grooved pavement" (warning to motorcyclists and bicyclists), "Open joints on bridge", "Icy Road", "Bridge freezes before roadway" and variants thereof, and "bump" or "dip" ahead (not related to construction). Truck drivers will need to pay attention to "Steep grade" warnings (or "Down grade, use lower gear"), sometimes posted with the percent grade (e.g., 5 percent). Steep hills may also feature "Runaway truck escape" or "Emergency stop" areas with corresponding signs. The UK has a sign warning of "Adverse camber" on a curve. Also "Loose gravel", "Soft shoulder", "Speed hump", and "Watch for Ice."

Miscellaneous[edit]

Warning signs with lights[edit]

Some warning signs have flashing lights to alert drivers of conditions ahead or remind drivers to slow down. In Britain, they are called warning light.

Non-traffic warning signs[edit]

Sign in Niagara Falls, Ontario, warning people not to climb over guard rail overlooking the Niagara River.

Warning signs are also found on other potential dangerous sites. At the base of electricity pylons or fences of substations or radiotechnical equipment with open parts leading high voltage, there are signs warning of high voltage. Warning signs can be found at the top of inclines. "Beware of Dog" is a typical warning of the presence of a dog, but there is no standard sign design. Others include wet floor signs.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Federal Highway Administration. "Section 1A.13 Definitions of Words and Phrases in This Manual". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (2003 ed.). Washington, DC. p. 1A-14. Retrieved 2009-03-01. "Warning Sign—a sign that gives notice to road users of a situation that might not be readily apparent." 
  2. ^ Defendants get 15-year Prison Sentences for stop-sign killings. CNN Interactive. June 20, 1997. Access date: July 29, 2007.
  3. ^ Stop-sign group challenges sentence. St. Petersburg Times, March 24, 2001
  4. ^ Baillie, Cole, and Miller were sentenced to between 27 and 46 years in prison, but would go free after only five years after a judge ordered a retrial because the prosecutor had overemphasized certain evidence in her closing arguments. The prosecution declined to bring the case a second time.[1] [2]
  5. ^ Highway safety sign becomes running story on immigration | The San Diego Union-Tribune
  6. ^ Driver's Handbook