What’s the Deal with Road Signs Anyway?

Michelle Mac
5 min readMar 1
A collection of Irish Road Signs — Wikipedia

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We rely on road signs to navigate safely in our vehicles. When these signs are missing, obstructed, or poorly designed, it puts our safety at risk.

I was driving home from visiting family the other week and I’m embarrassed to admit it but I almost had an accident.

I took a slight detour on the way home which takes me through an area with a train crossing. As I was driving through it, I realized the lights beside the crossing were flashing. I didn’t really think anything of it until seconds later when the barriers closed to allow a train to pass.

Immediately after the incident, I was stricken with fear thinking of the near miss I just had. I began to wonder what I missed, and how I didn’t realize I should have stopped the car.

A few things came to mind:

  • I completely missed the signage around the train crossing because it was half overgrown.
  • The flashing light didn’t signify any danger to me. I live near a zebra crossing with a perpetually flashing set of lights so I’ve grown accustomed to this flashing and don’t see it as anything “dangerous”, merely something to be aware of.
  • This was probably my second or third time actually driving through a train crossing and it occurred to me other people are likely the same. Because we’ve no familiarity with how we’re supposed to behave here, we need to depend on the signage and various signifiers nearby. When these are missing, obstructed, or lacking in clarity, we have nothing else to go on.

Every year it seems the news shows videos of “reckless drivers” who drive through train crossings and I’d always brush it off. “What idiots” I’d think. Now, of course, when the barriers are down and you still try and drive through a train crossing that’s a separate matter. But since my near miss recently, I realized how easy it could happen.

With all this in mind, I realized how little I knew about the road signs I see (or don’t see!) every day. So a deeper dive was warranted!

Michelle Mac

The *heavily edited* ramblings of a technical writer & frontend dev. I write about creativity, design, and productivity. Start here: https://heymichellemac.com/