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Traffic Signs – Communication on the Open Road

Traffic signs dot the roadways, both minor and major, of our country, from sea to shining sea. Some traffic signs are informational, letting you know where you are or what the road conditions are. Others provide you with specific instructions about how you should be driving through a specific area. Still others are temporary and are provided to alert you of a danger that may not normally be present. Whatever its purpose or intent, the traffic sign has become the unofficial narrator of the open road – and the closed ones too!

You may not think about them too much, but a lot of thought actually goes into the design and placement of a traffic sign. Civil engineers take many things into account when they are determining where and if a traffic sign needs to be installed somewhere. They look at the road conditions – is there a curve ahead that might require motorists to slow down? They look at the traffic patterns and usage that are likely to occur at that location – should this be a two way or a four way stop? And they consider what the best placement would be for a sign to ensure its visibility. Even a sign as seemingly simple as a street sign name can require a lengthy discussion. Traffic signs, in all of their simplicity are actually kind of complex.

Traffic signs have been evolving over the years. Directional signs and street signs have been around for many hundreds of years. These sign posts were set up to inform weary travelers of which direction they needed to go to reach whatever their destination might be. Since they predated motorized vehicles, there wasn't a need for stop signs or speed limits, just directions. Most travelers would only be on the move during the daylight hours, so the traffic signs of the day were dark and hand painted. A person traveling by foot or even on horseback could easily stop and read what the sign had to say, so some historical street signs were pretty wordy. In comparison, today's traffic sign is short and to the point and is painted with reflective paint that can even be read at night, under the reflection of headlights.

Traffic signs play a vital road in transportation today. Whether they are there to stop an accident, like a stop sign, to keep the flow of traffic moving smoothly, like a speed limit sign or to alert us to danger, like a road construction sign, our roads just wouldn't be the same without them.