The STOP sign ever so familiar to North Americans is used throughout continental Europe and the world—and it even reads "STOP" in English. (In the UK, however, the ubiquitous roundabout obviates the need for widespread use of the STOP sign.) The world also uses the same Yield sign as North America. The Red light = stop, green light = go convention is used everywhere as well. A solid or flashing amber light precedes the red light and green light in most areas. This light signals that a red or green light is imminent. If you have the option to eventually turn right (or left in Britain or Ireland) at a stop, a green arrow that points right may light simultaneously with the main red light that's stopping traffic from moving straight ahead. This green arrow means you can make a yielding right turn. Turning right when both these lights show red is against the law. In other words, no right turn on red. A protected left turn is indicated only when on the left side of the intersection a green signal arrow points left; a green arrow pointing left on the right side of the intersection signals a yielding left turn is permitted. In many areas traffic signals are turned off or flash yellow at night. Usually in such cases signs are in place next to the signals and these then control the situation. While fully operating, however, traffic signals override signs. |
The same set of standardized road signs are used all over Europe. These signs are essentially graphic rather than linguistic in nature. As such, their meaning tends to be easy to understand. Of course the meaning of some signs is less obvious than the meaning of others. On the International Roadsigns subpage I've placed images of the more important and confusing signs. (I do this separately so you don't have to sit through their download every time you access this chapter.) Diamond signs indicate priority. Red triangles are warnings. Red circles are restrictions. Blue circles are requirements. Squares and rectangles give guidance. Note the signs which show two arrows pointing in opposite directions. If one of these arrows is red, it means the traffic traveling in that direction must yield to traffic traveling in the other direction. The color red on a European road sign signals negative information such as a warning or prohibition. For another instance check out the sign that means No bicycles. You may encounter a similar circular sign showing a bicycle on a blue background. This sign designates a bicycle path. As used on the road signs the color blue is positive in that it signals an obligatory action or some feature—such as a bicycle lane, a rest stop or a parking garage—that you can take advantage of; simply put it says do rather than don't.
A level train crossing without barriers is indicated by the three subseqeunt triangle signs atop a diagonally hashed post. The first sign in the sequence bears three red diagonal hashes representing the three multiples of 80 meters (240 meters) remaining until the crossing. The other two are set at 80 meter intervals approaching the crossing and as such bear two hashes and one hash, respectively. A flashing red beacon and/or continuous bell warns of an approaching train. When the way is clear, the beacon changes to white or amber, and/or the bell ceases. You must turn off your vehicle's headlights when waiting at a crossing.
As in North America, dashed center lines mark passing zones while solid center lines denote no-passing zones. But while in North America yellow markings separate opposing traffic flows and white lines separate traffic moving in the same direction, in Europe white lines are used in both cases. Sometimes painted in regular succession amidst the dashed lines are fat arrows which curve slightly and point toward one lane while otherwise pointing almost straight ahead in the direction of that same lane. These arrows tell vehicles traveling in that lane that their passing zone will soon come to an end. A thick white orthogonal line at an intersection indicates where you must stop when you are in fact required to stop; a thinner dashed version indicates where you must yield when in fact you must yield. Diagonal white lines filling a space outlined in white indicate a portion of the street where vehicles are prohibited.
Cities usually post street signs not on poles at the corners but on placards attached one story up on buildings. Note that street names in some areas are apt to change frequently along an otherwise continuous avenue of concrete, and main routes may go unsigned while the intersecting and relatively minor cross streets are fastidiously labeled.