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A Guide to UK Road Signs
This guide is designed to help you understand the different types of road signs that you’ll see on UK roads and what they mean for you.
For more information on the laws behind the signs then you might also find this guide to UK road laws interesting. You can also see a full breakdown of all road signs and their meanings on the government's website here.
There are three styles of signs you will encounter, and these are:
Each of these has a different function and the different shapes are designed so that you can easily tell what type of information the sign provides.
Typically, circular signs are instructions, triangular signs are warnings and rectangular signs are informative ones.
Circular signs give orders.
There are a few kinds that you will see on the road.
A circular sign with a white background and then a red outline like the image above on the right will be an order not to do something.
A blue circle, like the left one give mandatory instructions that you must follow, for example turn left, or indicate a route available to only some road users like buses or bicycles.
Speed limits are usually shown on a white circle with a red border around the edge. In this case, these are the maximum speed you are legally allowed to travel along this road although it might not always be possible or safe to travel at this speed and you must not exceed the limit.
You might also see a national speed limit sign. This is a white circle with a diagonal black line through it, like the one shown on the left.
The national speed limit will vary depending on the type of road you are driving on.
If it is in a built-up area then it will be 30 mph, in a non-built-up area it will be 60 mph, unless you are on a dual carriageway or motorway where it will be 70 mph.
It is rare that you will see this sign used in a built-up area and will usually only be used in non-built-up area and so usually only mark a speed limit of 60 or 70 mph, where it is easy to tell the difference based on the number of lanes.
There are some occasions where a speed limit might be shown in a rectangular sign. This is usually when they are showing a change in limit alongside another factor you should be aware of. One example of this is where speed limits are shown alongside a sign advising you are nearing a school and they are combined on one sign. There will still be a circle with the limit inside it, but this will be part of a larger rectangular sign.
Although they are rarer, you might also find a minimum speed limit sign. It’s not often that these are used and when they are it is usually in places where it is dangerous for you and others to be driving slowly, for example in a tunnel where being exposed to fumes
These have a blue background, so you know they are a minimum and not a maximum limit.
The left picture is what you will see at the start of a minimum speed limit and the right one is the one you will see at the end of the minimum speed limit.
Triangular signs are used to warn you of an upcoming danger.
There are a number of different signs you’ll see, including several that highlight the different kinds of animals that could appear on that stretch of road.
Other warnings include: narrowing roads, merging traffic, junctions, roundabouts, humps and many more.
If you want to find out more about these signs then give our road sign quiz a go.
The triangle usually appears like the one on the right, with one narrow point at the top and a wider base.
However, there are a couple of exceptions where it will be the other way around with the wider part at the top and the point at the bottom. This is usually used on a give way sign or one warning of an upcoming junction where you will need to give way. The reason the triangle is inverted for this sign is to make it stand out.
Rectangular signs are usually used to communicate information to you.
They can provide you with information on the roadside with distances and directions to specific places, information on upcoming services, restrictions and much more information.
There are three main colours these signs will be blue, green and white.
Occasionally you will also see a black sign like the one above which is the advisory route for lorries if there are weight, width or height restrictions on other routes.
White signs are used on minor roads and green signs will be used on primary roads, both will provide you with directional information usually.
Blue signs are used for two purposes. One is on motorways for directions as well as information. The other is to provide information for road users in built-up areas.
Some examples of these informative signs can be seen below.
Another kind of road sign you might encounter is a brown directional or rectangular one.
The brown colour is used for tourist attractions and there are a number of different ones that you’ll see on the roads around the UK. Below are some of the most common pictures you can expect to see:
Although these are the most common some are more popular than others and you might not recognise all of the images. That’s no problem, you can take our road sign quizto find out what each of these mean and whether you can guess the right meaning.
Directional signs might also have an arrow point like the ones shown on the right.
Again white signs are used on minor roads, green signs are used on primary roads and blue signs are used on motorways.
Blue is also used in built up areas to mark pedestrian or cycle routes. As you can see from the images these are usually marked by a bicycle or walker on the sign as well.
You should be able to tell who the blue signs are for based on where they are used as bicycles and pedestrians are not allowed on motorways.
Yellow road signs are used for temporary routes or in an area where there are road works.
The below image shows the signs used for diverted routes. The different shapes are used to mark different routes, as there can commonly be more than one diversion in place when a main road is shut.
Directional arrows may also be used.
Where there are road works a number of different instructions might be given but some of the most common are shown below.
There are a few exceptions to the rules mentioned above and one of these is the stop sign.
This is the only sign that you will see in a red hexagon shape so that it stands out for all drivers and you must stop when you see this sign.
Other signs you might see include the ones below that provide further and specific information for you. The one in the centre is the sign you’ll see when entering an area with a school crossing patrol, and the one on the right tells you there are speed cameras on the road ahead.
Think you know your road signs? Then have a go at our guess the sign quiz here.
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