What do the Traffic Signs Represent?

Certain things in life become so frequent and so static that our brains begin to ignore them over time. Worryingly, road signs are no exception. People who travel down the same stretch of road hundreds of times a year will know the speed limit there better than anyone else, but at the same time, they probably won’t even notice the relevant signs which are so important to first-timers. What do the Traffic Signs Represent?

As with most countries, South Africa has a high number of road signs, each with a particular purpose or message for the general public. Luckily, certain types of road signs tend to share specific shapes and colours which can make them easier to identify and remember.

If, however, you take a trip on a different road, or if perhaps some road works are being done on your favourite one, you may start to notice a whole lot of new signs with new meanings. Sometimes the driving lessons from your teenage years are a bit too vague to remember and you may start to wonder – What do these road signs mean? Why do they have different shapes and colours? And what rules do I need to keep in mind?

What do the Traffic Signs Represent?
What do the Traffic Signs Represent?

What are the 6 Types of Road Signs?What do the Traffic Signs Represent?

The 6 most notable types of road signs are –

  • Regulatory Signs – These are designed to control the actions of people on the road. Both command signs (such as minimum speed limits) or prohibition signs (such as maximum speed limits) can be classified in the regulatory category. Failure to abide by these regulations is considered to be a criminal offence and can result in various penalties.
  • Warning Signs – As the name would suggest, these signs let people know of potentially dangerous obstacles ahead of them. These would include things like rock slides or animal crossings.
  • Guidance Signs – Signs that are designed to help the average motorist are known as guidance signs. These usually provide people with simple directions and distances on their journeys.
  • Information Signs – Similar to guidance signs, these messages give helpful bits of information to their readers, usually this involves pointing out key features in the area such as cul-de-sacs and bus stations. 
  • Road Markings – Unlike the other signs, these notices appear on the roads themselves and generally give extra regulations and guidance to the public. Perhaps the most recognisable form of these markings would be the white lines and arrows found at intersections. Much like regulatory signage, a failure to abide by these instructions can result in various penalties.
  • Traffic Signals – Once again, the name says it all. Things like traffic robots and signs are meant to regulate the flow of both motor vehicles and pedestrians. As with certain other markers, a failure to obey these signals can lead to legal repercussions.

As mentioned, certain types of signs also tend to have associated shapes which makes them easier to identify.

What do the Traffic Signs Represent?
What do the Traffic Signs Represent?

What are the Basic Shapes of Road Signs?

While there are some expectations to any rule, generally each shape relates to the following sign type –

  • Round/Octagon – Regulatory signs tend to be round with the exception of ‘STOP’ signs which are octagonal. At times, they can even be triangular (yield) or diamond-shaped (pedestrian priority signs).
  • Triangular (upward-facing) – Warning signs such as those depicted slippery roads and speed bumps are usually triangular. While they share their shape with the aforementioned yield signs, the triangular regulatory signs are usually distinguished as upside down triangles. 
  • Rectangular – Guidance signs which normally let you know the distance and general direction to major areas are rectangular in shape. Additionally, the more information that is displayed on these signs, the bigger they tend to be.

Why are some Signs Yellow?

Yellow signs are used to display temporary changes in the area. Depending on the situation, they can include any type of sign and can thus fit into any one of the categories mentioned above, in other words, you can find temporary regulatory signs, temporary guidance signs, etc.

How does a Roundabout Work in South Africa?

Roundabouts (or traffic circles) can be difficult to navigate at the best of times when everyone follows the rules, and a complete nightmare when they don’t. Sadly, the most any of us can do in these situations is to obey the law as best as possible and hope that everyone else does the same. So, with that in mind, what do you do at a roundabout?

  • Slow Down and Look Around – When approaching a roundabout, it’s always a good idea to take in your surroundings. This involves reading any road signs or markings as well as checking for oncoming traffic. The more time you have to do this, the safer you’ll be, so it’s worth taking your time at a roundabout rather than just speeding through.
  • Remember to Yield – Cars that are already in the traffic circle have the right of way. If a car is approaching on your right as you try to enter the circle, don’t rush forward. Wait until an opening appears and remain calm.
  • Signal Correctly – By using your indicators properly, you’ll be able to let other motorists know which exit you wish to take. The correct signals are as follows –
    • 1st Exit – Signal left and stick to the left-hand lane in the circle.
    • 2nd Exit – Pick the appropriate lane and continue on. Most people don’t put on their indicators when going straight but, if you choose to, make sure you only indicate left once you have passed the first exit.
    • 3rd or Last Exit – Signal right and stay on the right-hand side of the circle, only move over to the left when you are approaching your exit. Only signal left once you have passed the preceding exit.

If you miss your turn, don’t panic! You can always go around the circle again until you find your exit.

What do the Traffic Signs Represent?
What do the Traffic Signs Represent?

What are the 3 Hand Signals for Driving?

Three of the most important hand signals for drivers to learn are those which indicate left turns, right turns and stops. To perform these signals, do the following –

  • Right-Hand Turns – Extend your right arm out horizontally from your shoulder with your palm facing forward.
  • Left-Hand Turns – Extend your right arm out from the shoulder with your forearm pointing downwards from the elbow, then move your forearm in a circular anti-clockwise motion.
  • Stopping or Suddenly Reducing Speed – Extend your right arm out from the shoulder with your forearm pointing upwards from the elbow with your palm facing forwards.

What Should I do When the Traffic Lights Stop Working?

If you happen to come to an intersection when the traffic lights aren’t working, you are required to treat the crossing as a stop street/4-way stop. This means that all the rules associated with a 4-way stop apply and you will have to come to a complete stop even when there are no other cars around.

Once the car in front of you has gone through the intersection, you must wait until a car from each respective side has also gone through before you can proceed. At a 4-way stop, this means that you will need to let 3 other cars from 3 other sides go through the intersection before you can go.

In Conclusion – What are the Different Types of Traffic Signs and What do they Mean?

There are a plethora of different traffic signs in South Africa each with their own unique meaning. For the most part, signs can be grouped into different categories based on their shapes and colours.

  • Regulatory Signs are usually round or octagonal and control the actions of motorists and pedestrians. Speed limits and stop signs fall into this category.
  • Warning Signs are normally triangular and help to warn readers about upcoming dangers.
  • Guidance Signs are rectangular and often provide directions to motorists.
  • Information Signs are also rectangular and give useful and relevant information such as the locations of bus stops and other notable features in the area.
  • Road Markings can be found on the roads themselves and can include a wide array of information and/or guidance
  • Traffic Signals such as robots or traffic lights help to assist the flow of traffic and pedestrians.
  • Temporary Signs can have the same appearance as almost any of the aforementioned traffic signs however they are yellow in colour.

When navigating a roundabout it is important to remember that vehicles which are already in the circle have the right of way and that proper indications must be used to ensure that other motorists are aware of your intentions when exiting the circle.

When approaching an intersection with non-functioning traffic lights, you should treat the crossing as a stop street/4-way stop. Put simply, once the car in front of you has crossed the intersection, you must allow a car from each of the other sides to go through before you may proceed.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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