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Important signs of the times

A lot of us in the RV world have been driving for a long time. As such we sometimes take things for granted and do things behind the wheel more or less automatically rather than thinking them through like we know we must. This leads to mistakes and, as you know, even small mistakes can be super costly especially in our larger, heavier and more expensive vehicles.

So, I want to take you back to some basics. This is stuff you know but maybe haven’t thought about for a while. It’s about traffic signs. Pay attention, there might be a quiz!

Imagine what driving would be like without — bless their little hearts — traffic signs. It’s chaotic enough with them, what would it be like without them? The purpose of these devices, along with traffic laws and rules of the road, is to give us information and direction and give some order to things.

Those who take care of such things in this country have made it super easy for us. Traffic signs have just eight shapes and eight colors. I’ll wager you’ve forgotten some of this.

The most recognizable shape is the No. 1 octagon or eight-sided sign. That’s easy, it’s the stop sign and it’s always red. Red is meant to stand out. It’s used only for stop, yield or a prohibited activity. A stop sign means a full stop. Not a “California stop,” not an “Officer I meant to stop,” but a full and complete stop!

That’s what you do, right? But wait! There’s more! You have to stop in the right place, not in the intersection, not in the crosswalk but in the right place! You do that, too, of course? Sure you do.

Next shape is the No. 2 triangle or three-sided sign. Remember that one? It’s red and white and it means yield, which means you have to stop and let somebody else go first. There are nine specific situations where you must stop and let someone else go first. Do you know what all nine of those situations are? Didn’t think so.

What about those No. 3 vertical rectangles with four sides? They’re black and white, they’re called “regulatory” signs and they state the law. Most common are the speed limit signs. You always obey speed limits, right?

Next, there’s the No. 4 pentagon or five-sided sign. Signs in school zones are pentagonal. Don’t even think about speeding in a school zone. But wait! There are two kinds of school signs. Any idea what they are? That’s right! There are school zone signs and there are school crossing signs. The speed limit in a school zone is 20 mph.

How about those No. 5 round signs? Everybody knows that one. It’s a railroad crossing.

OK, just three more. With this one you will have no problem because you spend a lot of time on highways. It’s the No. 6 pennant shaped sign. You know, like the pennant you wave at a football game. You see it in a very different place on the highway. Think about that one. If you can’t get it, I’ll tell you at the end.

The No. 7 diamond shaped sign. All diamond shaped signs are warning signs. Something’s coming up ahead that needs your special attention! Most diamond shaped signs are yellow, but they can be another color. Know what it is? If you don’t know, I’ll tell you that later as well.

And, finally No. 8 is the well-known horizontal rectangle. You might have a problem with this one because of its size. These are those big green signs on freeways and interstate highways that give you distances to destinations and other information. Where would you be without those?

As for those eight sign colors:

  • RED means STOP. Full stop now, no cheating!
  • YELLOW means WARNING. Danger ahead. Be prepared to slow or stop!
  • BLACK AND WHITE means SPEED LIMIT or OTHER RESTRICTION! It’s the law. Count as two colors.
  • ORANGE means CONSTRUCTION or DETOUR. Many fatalities here because people won’t slow down!
  • GREEN means GUIDE. Routes, intersections, service areas, points of interest and so on.
  • BLUE means SERVICES. Gas, food, lodging and hospital
  • BROWN means RECREATION and other cultural interest.

The pennant shaped sign? Most signs are on your right. This one will be on the left side of the road. It’s yellow in color because it’s a warning sign and it will say “No Passing Zone.” A no passing zone is coming up so stay put in your lane and don’t attempt to pass.

The yellow diamond shaped warning signs may sometimes be orange in color. They’re giving us the same information, but telling us we are in a construction zone.

As you’re traveling down the highway, turn sign identification into a game to play with the kids and grandkids. It’s never too early for children, tweens and teens to learn to identify these “signs of the times” from a distance and understand the gist of the message before they get close enough to read the sign.

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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