Signs, Signals, and Road Markings
Traffic controls are markers, signs, and signal devices used to inform, guide, and regulate the movement of motor vehicles on the road. These help to make driving a safer and more satisfying experience for all road users. Traffic controls serve one of the four purposes:
- Regulate the speed and movement of traffic on the road.
- Warn drivers of hazards or changing conditions ahead.
- Inform drivers of local and state regulations governing the road.
- Guide drivers to their destination by identifying the route or place.
Common types of traffic control devices include stop signs, yield signs, crosswalks, traffic lights and others. Failure to adhere to Florida traffic laws regarding traffic control devices can result in a traffic ticket which can have any number of consequences depending on the particular infraction. Chapter 4 of the Florida driver handbook addresses all the traffic signals and signs in Florida. This chapter should be studied by anyone getting their driver’s license.
Traffic signs offer information road users need to travel on the roadway. Recognizing traffic signs and knowing their meanings can help drivers make safe driving decisions faster and more easily. There are 3 main types of traffic signs:
- Regulatory signs: Signs that aim to control traffic by setting limits or giving commands. These signs are enforceable by law. Examples include stop sign, yield sign, etc.
- Warning signs: Signs that aim to give you advance notice of possible hazards. When you see these signs, drive with caution. Examples include Reduction of Lanes sign, Cross Road sign, etc.
- Informational Signs: Signs that aim to give information about directions and distances.
To make them more intuitive for road users, traffic signs communicate mainly through colors and shapes. Different colors and shapes are reserved for different purposes, making the task of identifying them much easier.
Traffic sign colors can clue you into what you might need to do on the road. Here’s a list of common traffic sign colors and their meanings:
Red – means stop, yield, or prohibited. Red signs like STOP, YIELD, and WRONG WAY either signs you to stop your vehicle or prohibit entry.
Green – means go! A green traffic sign signals that you can proceed, or provides you with direction on where to proceed. Green signs also provide guidance and information, i.e. parking signs, destination signs.
Yellow means caution and this sign warns you to be prepared to slow down. You will often see yellow used for warning and school signs, as well as to indicate curves in the road, merging traffic, pedestrian crosswalks, railroad crossings, etc.
Black and white are colors often used on regulatory signs like speed limits. If you see a black and white sign, you must follow what it says without exception. Black and white signs can also be used as route markers.
Orange signs are temporary signs used for construction. If you see an orange traffic sign, you will likely encounter construction or road maintenance ahead, so slow down and drive with caution.
Black and white are colors often used on regulatory signs like speed limits. If you see a black and white sign, you must follow what it says without exception. Black and white signs can also be used as route markers.
Blue stands for guidance. Blue traffic signs often offer information to assist motorists. Examples include CALL BOX, REST AREA, and Interstate signs. Evacuation route signs are also blue.
Besides colors, the shape of a traffic sign can often signal its meaning. Knowing the following shapes and their meaning will help make your drive more pleasant.
Octagon – signals the need to stop. The one octagon sign you will see on roads is the STOP sign.
Upside down triangle – signals exclusively for yield.
Diamond – warns you of possible hazards ahead.
Pennant – serves as an advanced warning of no passing zones. You need to go back to your side of the road when you see a pennant sign.
Round/Circle – signals exclusively for the railroad.
Pentagon – signals school zone ahead or a school crossing zone.
Horizontal rectangles – proves guidance to drivers.
Vertical rectangle – serves as regulatory notices.
Traffic signals are placed at intersections to keep traffic moving and to help prevent crashes. Drivers, pedestrians, and bicycle riders must obey these signals except when an officer is directing traffic.
Traffic lights communicate different messages depending on color and shape.
Red: When you see a steady red light, come to a complete stop at the stop line, and remain stopped until the light turns green. If there is no crosswalk or limit line, you must stop completely before you enter the intersection. If you wish to turn right, you may do so after stopping completely if there isn’t a NO TURN ON RED sign and the way is clear. You may also turn left from a one-way street onto a one-way street that has traffic moving to the left. Before turning, you must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in the crosswalk and oncoming traffic. Remember, running the red light is against and law and is extremely dangerous.
Yellow: Yellow light acts as a warning to drivers that the light is changing to red. When you see a steady yellow light, you may proceed through the intersection, but stop if you can safely do so. It is extremely dangerous to be at an intersection when the light turns red.
Green: Green light means go, but only if the intersection is clear. Remember to look left, right, and then left again to ensure the way ahead is clear for you. You must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk and vehicles still in the intersection. Even if it’s a green light, it’s a good idea to approach it at a speed that will allow you to slow down if the light changes to yellow/red.
An arrow is used just like circular lights, except that it regulates turns going in the direction indicated. Red arrow means do not make the movement shown by the arrow until a green light appears, even if a steady green light is on. A steady yellow arrow means the green arrow is ending or the light is about to turn red. A flashing yellow arrow means although the turn is allowed in the direction of the arrow, the oncoming traffic has a green light, so yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians before proceeding. A green arrow means you may make a turn in the direction of the arrow. However, if the red light is illuminated at the same time, you must be in the proper lane for such a turn.
There are two types of flashing lights: Red and yellow. Flashing red light is used at dangerous intersections. When you see a flashing red light, treat it like a stop sign (come to a complete stop, check for hazards, and proceed when it is safe). Flashing yellow light is used at, or just before, dangerous intersections. It is also used to alert you to a warning sign such as a school crossing or sharp curve. When you see a flashing yellow light, slow down and proceed with caution.
Lane signals are used in three situations:
- When the direction of the flow of traffic changes during the day.
- To show that a toll booth is open or closed.
- To show which lanes are opened or closed.
When you see a Red X, never drive in the lane under the red X.
When you see a Yellow X, it means the lane signal is about to turn red.
When you see a GREEN ARROW, it means the lane is open to traffic going in your direction. You may use this lane, given you must obey all other signs and signals.
Broken or Inoperative Traffic Signals
If a traffic signal is out of order, treat the light/intersection as a four-way stop sign. This means to stop completely at the limit line, crosswalk, or the entrance to the intersection, check for hazards and proceed only when it is safe to do so.
Lines, symbols, and words are painted on roadways to help direct drivers and control traffic flow. You must know what the different lines, colors, and symbols mean and obey them. Unless you are turning, exiting a highway, or changing lanes, always stay between the lines marking your lane.
Yellow Line Markings
Yellow lane lines separate lanes of traffic moving in opposite directions. The single solid yellow line is used to mark the left edge of the pavement on divided highways and one-way streets. You must drive to the right of the yellow line so you are driving on the right side of the road. There are several exceptions:
Single broken yellow line: While you should stay to the right of the line, you may temporarily cross this line when you are passing a vehicle in front of you.
Solid Yellow and Broken Yellow Centerline
- Solid on right, broken on left: Passing or crossing is not allowed in this lane except when turning left.
- Broken on the right, solid on left: Passing is permitted in this lane when safe to do so.
However, when there is a two-way left turn center lane, which has solid outside yellow lines and broken inside yellow lines on each side, you may cross the solid yellow line to use this lane. Remember that this lane has restricted uses. Again, drive in this lane only for left turns or U-turns where permitted, or when entering or exiting a driveway or private road.
Double solid yellow lines: Vehicles moving in either direction must not cross these lines (unless turning left and making a U-turn when it is safe to do so). If you intend to make a U-turn, start from the lane furthest to the left on your side of the road. High occupancy vehicle lanes may also make use of double solid yellow lines to separate them from regular freeway traffic. Do not cross these lines except at designated openings, even if the lane appears to be clear.
White Line Markings
White lane lines separate lanes of traffic moving in the same direction and crosswalks. Single solid white line is used to mark the right edge of the pavement. You may travel in the same direction on both sides of this line, but do not cross the line unless you must do so to avoid a hazard. Also used to discourage lane changes near intersections. There are a few exceptions:
Broken white line: You may cross this line to change lanes when it is safe to do so. Remember to check your blind spots and signal!
Double solid white line: Crossing a double solid line is not allowed.
Solid Lines with Arrows (Turn Lanes): Arrows are often used with white lane lines to show which turn may be made from the lane.
- Lane is marked with a curved arrow and the word “ONLY”: you must turn in the direction of the arrow.
- Lane is marked with both a curved and straight arrow: you may either turn or go straight.
- Two-way roadway with center lane: drivers from either direction may use the center lane for left turns; you must not use for passing.
Crosswalks: Crosswalks, or safety zones, are found at intersections. Those that are marked using white lines. You must yield to pedestrians that are in these zones or are preparing to cross.
Preferential lanes: High occupancy vehicle lanes are marked with white lines and white diamonds or white letters spelling out HOV. These may be separated from regular traffic with either white or yellow lines. As indicated above, you may only cross at designated openings. Bicycle lanes are also marked with white lines and either a white bicycle symbol or the words BIKE LANE. Do not cross into a bicycle path to park, pass another vehicle, or drive in except to make a right turn, and only after you yield to any bicycles using the lane.
An intersection is any place on the road where two roads cross or intersect. Intersections are one of the most dangerous locations on Florida roads. Red-light-running is one of the most common factors in urban crashes and fatalities from them have risen in recent years. In 2016, more than 800 people died, an increase of 17 percent from 2012. The IIHS has found that signal violations at intersections were the most likely type of motor-vehicle accidents to cause personal injury. Following are some of the most common causes of intersection accidents:
- Failing to make a complete stop at a red light before making a right turn
- Running a stop sign or red light
- Ignoring yield signs
- Failing to adhere to traffic signals
- Failure to acknowledge another driver’s right of way
Driving Through Intersections
As you come to intersections, you need to slow down and look carefully for pedestrians, cyclists, and other motor vehicles, yield signs, stop signs, and traffic lights. There are two main types of intersections: Controlled and uncontrolled.
Controlled intersections have traffic lights, yield signs or stop signs to control traffic.
At a controlled intersection where you face a green light, drive carefully through the intersection at a steady speed. If the light has been green for a while, be prepared to stop when it turns yellow. However, if you are already so close that you cannot stop safely, drive through the intersection with caution. Where you face a red light, come to a complete stop and wait until the light turns green.
When you approach an intersection on the main road, and the intersection is blocked with traffic, stop before entering the intersection and wait until the traffic ahead moves on. This does not apply if you are turning left or right.
At a controlled intersection where you face a yield sign, slow down or stop if necessary and wait until the way is clear before driving through the intersection.
At a controlled intersection where you face a stop sign, come to a complete stop. Drive through the intersection only when the way is clear.
Uncontrolled intersections have no signs or traffic lights. They are usually found in areas where there is not much traffic. Be extra careful around these intersections. If two vehicles come to an uncontrolled intersection from different roads at the same time, the driver on the left must let the driver on the right go first. This is called yielding the right-of-way.
Yielding the right-of-way means you must let another driver go first. Here are some rules about right-of-way:
- At an uncontrolled intersection (without signs/signals), you must yield the right-of-way to a vehicle approaching the intersection before you. If you arrive at the same time, the driver on the left must let the driver on the right go first.
- At an intersection with stop signs at all corners, you must yield the right-of-way to the first vehicle to come to a complete stop. If two vehicles stop at the same time, the vehicle on the left must yield to the vehicle on the right.
- At any intersection where you want to turn left or right, you must yield the right-of-way. If you are turning left, you must wait for approaching traffic to pass or turn and for pedestrians in or approaching your path to cross. If you are turning right, you must wait for pedestrians to cross if they are in or approaching your path.
- When entering a road from a private road or driveway, you must yield to vehicles on the road and pedestrians on the sidewalk.
- You must yield the right-of-way and wait for pedestrians to completely cross the road at pedestrian crossovers and school crossings with crossing guards.
Interacting at Intersections
Making turns at intersections is especially dangerous. Usually, there are signs or signals at the intersection to regulate turns. For example, a sign might indicate that left turns are not allowed at the intersection. In such cases, it is illegal to make a turn against a sign or signal that prohibits the type of turn you wish to make.
In order to make a turn safely, Florida law requires a few things to be done before you make the turn:
- You must signal at least 100 feet before making a turn to let other drivers know your intention.
- You must be in the correct lane for the turn. For example, right turns must always be made as close to the curb or the edge of the road as practicable. Left turns and U-turns, on the other hand, should be made in the far-left lane of your side of the road.
It is important to note that according to the Florida Driver’s Handbook, Florida law actually gives no one the right of way. Florida law only states who must yield or give up the right-of-way.
Here are some techniques to help you make a left, right, or U-turn safely at intersections:
Turning in General
To turn a corner, signal at least 100 feet before the turn. When the way is clear, move into the proper lane, either the far-right lane for a right turn or the far-left lane in your direction for a left turn. Signal your turn and look from side to side and check your blind spots to make sure the way is clear.
Slow down before you enter the turn; the sharper the turn, the slower you should go. To keep full control of the vehicle, finish braking before you turn the steering wheel.
For a sharp turn, turn the steering wheel with one hand and cross the other hand over it. Grip the wheel on the other side and continue turning. This is called “hand over hand steering.” When you have completed the turn, relax your grip on the steering wheel and let it slip or gently feed it through your hands to return to the straight-ahead position. Do not turn the steering wheel with one finger or the flat palm of your hand. Gradually increase speed as you complete the turn.
Remember, drivers often lose control of vehicles and skid because they try to do more than one thing at a time. Try not to brake and steer at the same time. Also, you must yield the right-of-way to others, and complete your turn in the correct lane.
Marking Right Turns Safely
Unless signs or pavement markings tell you not to, always begin and end a right turn close to the right side of the road.
To make a right turn, signal 100 feet before the turn and move into the right-hand lane when the way is clear. If the right-hand lane is not marked, keep as far to the right of the road as possible. Look ahead, left, right and left again before starting to turn. If you have not seen any smaller vehicles or pedestrians, check your right rear blind spot. Let cyclists, limited-speed motorcycles, or moped riders go through the intersection before you turn. When it is safe, complete your turn into the right-hand lane of the road you are entering.
Marking Left Turns Safely
Unless signs or pavement markings tell you not to, always begin and end a left turn in the far-left lane in your direction.
To make a left turn, signal well before the turn and move into the far-left lane when the way is clear. Look ahead, behind, left, right and left again and check your blind spots. Make your turn when the way is clear.
When you are stopped at an intersection waiting for approaching traffic to clear, don’t turn your steering wheel to the left until you can complete the turn. With your wheels turned to the left, your vehicle could be pushed into the path of oncoming traffic.
When two vehicles coming from opposite directions meet in an intersection waiting to turn left, each should turn to the left of the other after yielding the right-of-way to pedestrians and oncoming traffic.
Motorcycles, bicycles, limited-speed motorcycles and mopeds turn left at intersections in the same way as larger vehicles. If you are making a left turn behind one of these vehicles, do not pull up beside it to make your turn at the same time. Stay behind and turn when the way is clear. Wait for the smaller vehicle to move right before you pass.
Making U-Turns Safely
Before you make a U-turn, check to make sure there is no sign saying not to.
To make a U-turn safely, you must be able to see well in both directions. It is illegal to make a U-turn on a curve in the road, on or near a railway crossing or hilltop, or near a bridge or tunnel that blocks your view. Never make a U-turn unless you can see clearly in both directions.
To make a U-turn, signal for a right turn, check your mirror and over your shoulder and pull over to the right side of the road. Stop. Signal a left turn and when traffic is clear in both directions, move forward and turn quickly and sharply into the opposite lane. Check for traffic as you turn.
Proceeding straight is probably the safest maneuver you can make at an intersection, but accidents can still occur. When you are approaching an intersection, always scan ahead to be sure it is safe, just as you would if you were turning. Slow down and cover your brake pedal before you go through intersections so you can prepare for hazards, i.e. red-light runners. You must yield to cross traffic already in the intersection. Observe any traffic signs and signals, as well as right-of-way practices, before proceeding.
Mandatory Restriction for Minors
Any driver under the age of 18 who accumulates six or more points within a 12-month period is automatically restricted for one year to driving for business purposes ONLY. If additional points are accumulated the restriction will be extended for 90 days for every additional point received.
Some areas are marked with signs, signals, and/or pavement markings to indicate special stops are required due to heightened dangers. Two in particular that require special stops are railroad crossings and school crossings.
Railroad Crossings – Crossing gates, flashers, crossbuck signs and stop signs may be used to mark a railroad crossing. Some crossings may have flaggers standing by. You must come to a complete stop at the stop sign or within 50 feet of the crossing, but no closer than 15 feet, and you may proceed only if the tracks are clear for a safe distance before you cross. You must also stop when you can clearly hear or see a train. When the gates are lowered or the lights are flashing, you must come to a complete stop. It is both illegal and dangerous to drive around these gates. You must wait until they are fully in the upright position before proceeding.
At railroad crossings, the following vehicles must always come to a full stop:
- a school bus carrying students
- a bus or farm labor vehicle carrying passengers
- a vanpool vehicle transporting employees
- Commercial vehicles used to transport hazardous materials.
Be alert if you are following any of these vehicles
School Crossings – Most school zones have signs and the words SCHOOL and SCHOOL XING painted in yellow on the pavement to let you know you are near a school. Some also have a flashing light to alert you that you are in a school zone. These call for extreme caution and reduced speeds, and you must be prepared to stop. Crossing guards who help children cross the road safely are posted at many school crossings. You must obey them as well.