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What are the Basic Colors of U.S. Road Signs?

Road sign basic colors - Copyright: Xzelenz Media

Why Should You Learn the Basic Colors of U.S. Road Signs?

Colors and shapes are specified by the Federal Highway Administration and are National Standard, which means they are the same in all states.

Most states find shapes and colors important enough to be included in the driver’s manuals or driver handbooks. If they are included in your manual, you may also except questions about them to show up on the driver license exam.

This, of course, is one reason for you to study both shapes and colors. But it is also a great help when you are driving later in life and looking for specific signs.

Identifying basic colors and shapes from a distance

Let’s say you are driving on an interstate and you have been behind the wheel for longer than you should. You desperately want to find a rest area.

By scanning the road far ahead and looking for blue road signs, you can be prepared and keep in the right lane when a rest area shows up – instead of finding yourself in the left lane overtaking a large truck when you get there.

Or if you are running out of gas. Look for blue signs ahead, they all indicate some kind of motorist service. If it isn’t a rest area, it is likely a sign that guides you to restaurants, gas stations, or lodging.

Blue road sign on US Highway - Credit: Corey Coyle

Orange signs ahead warn you of a work zone. By limit all distractions well ahead of the work zone you can be more alert to changing traffic patterns and workers.

Green signs guide you to different destinations. If you are driving on unfamiliar roads, it can be a good idea to stay in the right lane until you can read the information on the guide signs.

The above are just some examples when knowing the color of signs can come in handy.

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Check How Much You Know


1. You see a pink road sign from a distance. What should you expect ahead?

A. A traffic incident.
B. A school bus stop.
C. A railroad crossing.


2. You are driving on a rural highway. You see an orange diamond-shaped road sign far ahead. The sign will:

A. Mark the beginning of a no-passing zone.
B. Warn you of road works ahead.
C. Indicate a new speed limit.


3. A sign showing information about nearby phone services is an example of a traffic sign with:

A. Green background.
B. White background.
C. Blue background.


4. What background color is used for parks and recreation signs?

A. Brown.
B. Blue.
C. Black and White.


5. Red road signs indicate:

A. Motorist services guidance.
B. Stop or prohibition.
C. General warning.


Basic Colors in Short – Learn This!

Yellow, yellow-green, orange, and pink are used on warning signs.

Black, white, and red are used on regulatory signs.

Blue, brown, and green are used on guide signs.

Basic colors US Road Signs - Learn this - Copyright: Xzelenz Media

The Official Definitions of the Basic Colors

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) specifies 13 colors that can be used on highways in United States, 11 of the are in current use. 2 (coral and light blue) are reserved for future use.

The Tennessee Comprehensive Driver License Manual incorrectly states that Fluorescent Pink also is known as Coral. It is not. Compare the two colors below.



A. Basic colors - black Black – regulation
B. Basic colors - blue Blue – road user services guidance, tourist information, and evacuation route
C. Basic colors - brown Brown – recreational and cultural interest area guidance
D. Basic colors - coral Coral – not yet assigned
E. Basic colors - pink Fluorescent Pink – incident management
F. Basic colors - yellow-green Fluorescent Yellow-Green – pedestrian warning, bicycle warning, playground warning, school bus and school warning
G. Basic colors - green Green – indicated movements permitted, direction guidance
H. Basic colors - light blue Light Blue – not yet assigned
I. Basic colors - orange Orange – temporary traffic control
J. Basic colors - purple Purple – lanes restricted to use only by vehicles with registered electronic toll collection (ETC) accounts
K. Basic colors - red Red – stop or prohibition
L. Basic colors - white White – regulation
M. Basic colors - yellow Yellow – warning

Correct answers to questions above

1. A, 2. B, 3. C, 4. A, 5. B

Quick Recap!

1. Expect questions about colors to show up on the driver license or permit exam.

2. Colors give important information about the purpose of a road sign (like prohibition, warning, or guidance).

Orange road signs warn you of construction and maintenance work on, or near, the road. Adjust your speed and watch for workers and equipment.

In United States, all three colors are used for guide signs.

  • Blue signs guide you to motorists services (like gas stations or rest areas)
  • Green signs show distances and guide you to cities, towns and highway exits
  • Brown signs guide you to recreation areas (like state parks) and points of historic interest

Fluorescent pink road signs are used for temporary incident management. You will typically see them when there has been a serious traffic accident involving many vehicles, hazardous materials, or natural disasters. Often, all or part of the roadway is closed ahead.

In United States, general warning signs have black symbols or lettering on a yellow background. Signs that alert you to school zones, pedestrian crossings, or bicycle crossings can have a fluorescent yellow-green background.

Signs with a red background are regulatory signs. They indicate something you must do or must NOT do. Typical examples are the Stop sign (you must come to a full stop) and the Wrong Way sign (you cannot drive in this direction).

Road signs with white background and a red crossed out circle indicates "Do Not", like the No Parking sign and No Right Turn sign.

Fluorescent yellow-green has replaced the traditional yellow on three types of warning signs in United States:

  • School Zone / School Crossing
  • Pedestrian Crossing
  • Bicycle Crossing

Learn More

 Basic shapes of U.S. Road Signs

 Road sign quiz – United States

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways

 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

About Joni Stark
Business Analyst, Senior Instructor & Project Manager. Twitter: @jonistark_xz

2 Comments

  1. The colors and signs are important but the shades aren’t as I think. About shade questions confuse to examiners.

    • I suppose you mean shapes.

      United States have a different system than many other countries. So, if you’ve learned the shapes in another country, you need to study the American ones.

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