What’s the purpose of roadway guide signs?

interstate 81The purpose of all roadway signs is to provide safety and efficiency on the roadways by providing for the orderly and predictable movement of all road users. The purpose of roadway guide signs is to guide travelers to their destinations as easily, quickly, and safely as possible. For this to happen, there must be appropriate and easily discernible signs posted along the way.

With over 164,000 miles of highway and 4 million miles of public roads in the United States, traffic signs are a necessity in today’s world. Motorists need consistent guidance and therefore clear, visible, and uniform signing is a must on their journey.

Whether you are driving from one state to another, or driving through rural or urban areas, there are significant differences in conditions that signing considers. Also, approaching interchanges can be confusing and even dangerous without clear and appropriate guidance.

Guide signs on expressways and freeways accomplish the following for motorists:

  1. Give directions to destinations, or streets or highway routes, at intersections or interchanges.
  2. Show distances to destinations.
  3. Direct road users into appropriate lanes in advance of merging or diverging movements.
  4. Provide advance notice of the approach to intersections or interchanges.
  5. Identify routes, and directions on those routes.
  6. Indicate access to general motorist services, scenic, rest, and recreational areas.
  7. Provide other information of value to the road user.

A Brief History of Roadway Guide Signs

It’s hard to imagine going on a trip without roadway signs to guide us. But our current orderly system of road signage hasn’t always existed as it is today. There have been efforts to improve road conditions, guidance, and safety since the 1800s when the early cycling organizations and local authorities started advocating for paved, even roads, and began posting signs to help warn cyclists of steep hills and other hazards.

Then as the automobile came into more widespread use, the need for safe roads and better traveling guidance became more urgent. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) began erecting wooden signs as early as 1902 for its members, and in 1905, the Buffalo Automobile Club installed an extensive signpost network in New York State.

However, our modern system of roadway signage took on its current form in November of 1935, when the first edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was published and approved as an American Standard. Since then it has undergone many revisions, updates, and amendments, even providing for blackout conditions in 1942. Changes are continually being made to reflect changing traffic control devices for:

  • Increased traffic
  • Higher speeds
  • Greater commercial traffic
  • Roads that are used 24-hours a day in every kind of weather

Street signs are continually evolving and developing. Modern technology allows computerized, electronic signs to give drivers timely detour info, construction work advisories, and other important traffic news. Some will even tell you how long it will take to get to a specific location in current conditions.

What are Roadway Guide Signs?

Roadway guide signs provide directional and mileage information to specific destinations for travelers in unfamiliar areas. They are predominantly green with white lettering and a white border. They direct road users along streets and highways, inform them of intersecting routes, and guide them to cities, rest stops, and many other destinations. They include distance and destination signs, informational signs, and route markers.

Roadway guide signs also identify nearby rivers and streams, parks, forests, historical sites, and general services.

These signs may be rectangular, square, or other shapes. Requirements vary and include not only the color, shape, and size of the sign but also the lettering and symbols. If the signs are to be used at night, they need to either be illuminated or retroreflective, so that they can be easily read during the day, at night, and in poor visibility. Outdoor signs must also be protected with a sealed outer surface to maintain the integrity and readability of the information they contain.

Other types of roadway guide signs include:

  • Highway Mile Markers
  • Interstate, U.S. Route, State, and County Route Markers
  • National Forest Route Marker
  • National Scenic Byways Marker
  • Hurricane Evacuation Route
  • Exit Only

Note the different color, shape, and sizes of some of the signage listed immediately above, as outlined in the MUTCD.

For example:

  • Interstate route markers are a shield with a blue background, white lettering, and border, with a red band across the top.
  • S. route markers are black with a white shield and black numbers.
  • US State route markers have a black background, the shape of the state is in white, and the route number is in black.
  • National Forest route markers are a brown trapezoid with a white border and white lettering, etc.

Why Guide Signs are Important

For as long as people have been traveling, there has been a need for guide signs. They were the first signs to appear along the ancient paths in the form of stone formations, guiding travelers to new destinations. Road guide signs convey most of the information a driver needs to reach their destination, such as:

  • Directions to destinations, streets or highway routes
  • City, town, or street names
  • Destination distance, in miles
  • Notice of highway exits, in miles
  • Freeway interchange diagrams

In addition to marking the route for us, guide signs point us to food and rest along the way, as well as informing us of interesting places we may not have known about before.

Our modern system of road signage has developed dramatically in less than a century, constantly adapting to evolving needs. Guide signs are an integral and crucial part of a uniform and effective system of signing, so you want quality signs from an experienced supplier.

Where Can You Buy Road Guide Signs?

Worksafe Traffic Control Industries has been a leader in traffic control supplies for nearly 30 years, first in service, safety, and smart solutions. If you need worksite signage or other equipment to maintain safety, or otherwise direct the flow of traffic, they can help. They carry a full line of roadway signs as well as other traffic control products.


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