How do we know the meaning of traffic signs we see and interact with on a daily basis? For most people, they may not exactly know or they are only subconsciously aware.
In this article, we'll discuss some of the different colors used to convey various messages on the road, and how street signs use basic human psychology to signal what they want us to do.
Red, Orange, and Yellow Colored Signs
When signs use bright, warm colors, it means that we should pay more urgent attention to the signs and surrounding area of which they're found.
Red usually signifies stopping or implies not doing an action. These signs are the most urgent; stop signs are the most common red signs, and other signs that feature the color red typically have similar meanings. Whenever a red sign — or a sign featuring a red symbol — is telling you to do something, it's telling you to do it NOW.
Orange signs are one step down. Our brains are wired to see orange and think "safety" or "caution". That's why construction signs, such as “road work ahead” signs, and many features of roadside construction sites are mostly orange. These signs are telling you to be aware and use caution while driving through this area.
Yellow street signs carry some urgency as well, but the messages aren't as critical. If orange signifies a caution, yellow is giving you a warning. If there's a sharp curve coming up or a school zone ahead, you may want to reduce speed to ensure everyone's safety.
These warm, bright colors are the easiest to see among common roadside backgrounds, meaning these signs will be noticed the quickest, even when drivers are distracted.
White Traffic Signs
White signs are typically regulatory. They refer to local traffic laws, telling drivers things such as the speed limit, the lane rules at intersections and various other messages that help lay out the rules of the road.
White is not as noticeable of a color as red, orange, or yellow. While important, constantly knowing the speed limit isn't as urgent as watching out for a construction truck or paying attention to pedestrians crossing the street.
You'll notice that when white signs have messages that are more important for road safety — a "No U-Turn" sign, for example — there's usually a component with a more noticeable color featured, like a red circle with a slash through it.
Green signs (and some blue ones) are primarily navigational. On both local and interstate roadways, green signs tell you what exits are coming up, some of the businesses that are present at those exits, as well as cross streets and upcoming intersections.
In most settings, green is one of the least noticeable colors. It blends in with nature and doesn't catch your eye quite as easily. Green signs are really only necessary for drivers who are looking for them to find their way to their destination, such as street signs.
Significance of Color
The next time you wonder why a sign is a certain color, ask yourself a few simple questions: what message is the sign trying to convey and how urgent is the message on the sign? Street signs get a little help from human psychology to communicate subliminally by using colors that have had implicit connections since childhood. Resulting in roads become a little bit safer.