Risk management

Fleet safety series

Traffic signs

All drivers know that road signs make traveling a little easier by providing pertinent information and regulating the flow of traffic. They provide drivers with the rules of the road and give order to our behavior on the highway. 

At the present time, there are three official traffic sign classifications—regulatory, warning and guide. These signs are further broken down into seven basic shapes and eight basic colors. 

Signs use various symbols, shapes and colors so that we drivers can react immediately to them. Symbols are now being used extensively on highway signs, because research has shown that people react more quickly to symbols than they do to words. To drive safely, therefore, we must be able to recognize these symbols and know what they mean. 

Let’s take a closer look at the warning sign classification. These yellow signs alert us to conditions that lie immediately ahead and tell us what to look for. There may be road hazards, changes in direction or other situations that will require an adjustment in our driving. 

A pentagon shaped (five sided) warning sign, indicates that a school crossing zone is ahead. When you see this sign, you should slow down, watch carefully and be prepared to stop if necessary. 

Remember—schools may hold classes at different hours because of staggered schedules, and many school activities are held at night, so be alert at all times. 

The steep hill sign is not an indication of any ordinary hill, so take heed. The sign not only indicates a steep grade but possibly a hill with long, steep or sharp curves. Slow down before you start down. 

Signs indicate that two lanes of traffic will soon merge into one. Watch carefully and be prepared either to change lanes or to allow traffic to merge into your lane. 

Pedestrian crossing sign. This sign indicates that there is a crosswalk ahead, not necessarily at an intersection. Watch both sides of the street for pedestrians. 

We must remember that warning signs are primarily for the protection of the driver who is unacquainted with the road. It is also very important that all drivers note their location. 

In rural areas, warning signs should normally be placed 750 feet before a road hazard or condition. On high speed roads—and particularly on freeways—advance warning distances may be as great as 1,500 feet or more! Where speeds are relatively low, the advance distance is only about 250 feet. 

It is important for you to know that the actual advance warning distance will be determined by two factors, the prevailing speed and the prevailing condition. These bear, respectively, on the time available for a driver to comprehend and to react to the message, and the time needed to perform any necessary maneuver. 

It is every driver’s responsibility to identify and obey all traffic control signs. Make it a point to periodically review the different signs and to become acquainted with their meanings.


Insurance products and services are offered through Markel Specialty Commercial, a business division of Markel Service Incorporated, policies written by one or more Markel insurance companies. Terms and conditions for coverage may vary by state.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.