If you have been driving for a while, there is a fairly good chance that you have developed some bad driving habits.  We are not suggesting that you are bad driver—rather, your strict adherence to the rules of the road may have given way to slight indiscretions that are rationalized in the name of “safety” and convenience, or even a specific need.  What does that equate to in layman’s terms?  It’s the equivalent of speeding because you are running late; not fully stopping at a 4-way stop even though no one else is around; and not yielding to pedestrians waiting to cross the road at a crosswalk because they don’t look like they are ready to cross.

In this blog post we will look at road signs and their meanings, and the common (mis)interpretations drivers have of those signs.

Speed limit signs:

Speed limit signs are regulatory signs, meaning they are absolute signs and tell you a specific action to take that cannot be exceeded.  Regulatory signs are usually white and red in color and have a rectangular shape (with the exception of stop and yield signs, which are in the shape of an octagon and triangle, respectively).

The white-in-color speed limit signs tell you the maximum speed you may travel.  Yellow-in-color speed limit signs, however, are warning signs that advise you of the maximum safe speed on a road in ideal driving conditions.  These signs are often found at exits, ramps, turns, and in a zone where the speed limit changes; they are frequently disregarded or ignored as they are treated as mere warnings.  You may receive a traffic ticket if you exceed the posted advisory speed limit.


Stop & Yield Signs:

These types of signs are also regulatory signs.  Their function ensures an orderly flow of traffic while minimizing or eliminating traffic crashes.  However, how often do you see a driver “roll though” a stop sign or fail to yield to traffic when the signs are posted?


When it comes to these special regulatory signs, it means you must stop or prepare to stop.  Your vehicle’s wheels must stop spinning completely.  A “rolling stop” may mean to you that you have stopped, even if you are able to come to a complete stop, but you can still get a ticket for it.  Better not chance it.

Regulatory Signs―Mandatory Movements in Lanes at an Intersection:

These signs are frequently misunderstood.  Again, they are absolute, so there is no variation of what you can or should do, and they tell a driver exactly what needs to be done.


However, think back to the last time you were at an intersection and saw one of these signs and observed a driver disregard it (or perhaps you have done it yourself)?  The word ONLY demands that you perform that specific action indicated on the sign at that intersection.


So, if you find yourself in a right lane that is marked with right-turn-only sign, but the lane continues straight beyond the intersection, you MUST turn right—no exceptions.



And when you are in the far-most-left (or inside) left-turn-lane at an intersection and the posted sign advises you can only turn left, please do NOT make a U-turn.  U-turns are only legal at intersections in Virginia, unless it is otherwise posted (by a no U-turn or left-turn-only sign).  But in this case you must turn left—you cannot make a U-turn.

Pedestrian Crossing and Bicyclist Signs:

These types of signs are among the most disregarded and misinterpreted traffic signs on the road.  Drivers do not pay attention to pedestrians and frequently do not know when they are required to yield to pedestrians.


There are both regulatory and warning signs advising drivers of a pedestrian or bicycle crossing ahead.  It is crucial that drivers yield to pedestrians and bicyclists alike as they are the most vulnerable road users—they are not protected by a steel safety cage as you would be when traveling in a vehicle.  Plus, if you are stopped and ticketed by police for failing to yield to a pedestrian or bicyclist, you could be convicted of the offense and face both a fine and points on your license.

Always err on the side of caution and do not overthink the meanings of traffic signs.  If you do know the meaning of a sign, refresh your memory.  The Virginia Driver’s Manual is an excellent resource.  Make the journey on the road a safe one for everyone.

Happy driving!  Drive Safely!


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