Traffic signs are an integral element of our daily lives. They provide drivers, cyclists and pedestrians with directional, warning and recreational information. They're generally taken for granted, but consider how difficult it would be to find your destination for the first time without them.
In North American and Australia, traffic signs are broken down into a number of different categories. Stop signs and speed limit signs fall into the "regulatory" category. There are "warning" signs that inform the driver about the road ahead. Railroad, bridge crossings, curves in the roadway and pavement condition signs are examples of this category. "Marker" signs tell us what road we are on. There are also "Guide and Information" signs, which direct us to specific locations, including some drivers only think of when it becomes necessary, like the ubiquitous "H" for hospitals, and those advising of local parking opportunities. "Recreational and Cultural Interest signs" point us toward our favorite park or attraction.
Signs come in a number of shapes and sizes. There are three shapes used exclusively for one purpose. We all know what the red octagon represents, the familiar shape planners wisely reserved only for "Stop" signs, a crucial step in early traffic systems. The other two are the "Circle" used for advanced warning of railroad crossings, and the "Crossbuck," which signifies a railroad crossing.
Sign Colors and Reflective Coatings
Thirteen colors are used in the background for signs, but only 10 appear on roadways at present. Purple, coral and light blue are being held in reserve for future use. Of course, signs need to be visible both in the daytime and at night, both on well-lit streets and those that are less so. While some signs are illuminated, it would be too expensive to install lights on all of them. For this reason each sign is treated with a reflective coating. There are a number of different types of coatings used on signs, all produced at a variety of costs, with different projected lifespans. If applied properly each is water-, ice- and salt-resistant.
The earliest signs used were "milestones" informing travelers about distance or direction to their destination. The Romans, famed for their extensive road construction, used stone columns throughout the countryside indicating the direction and distance to Rome, where "all roads [famously] led." As the automobile was developed and became more widely used, the need for modern signs increased. The first road sign system was developed in 1895 by the "Italian Touring Club."
Street Sign Theft
Popular or unique street signs are often the sought-after prize of thieves and collectibles aficionados. "Penny Lane" and "Abbey Road," both made famous as song titles by the iconic British pop band the Beatles, are often removed by fans of the band. The highway marker for the famous "Route 66" is another popular target.
- Photo Credit Traffic & Information Signs collection #13. Isolated image by Stasys Eidiejus from Fotolia.com
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