Welcome to Road Signs of Canada
If you are looking to understand the road signs of Canada, look no further. Road signs can be understood by their shapes, their colors, and also the messages printed on them (obviously). Feel free to check out my article Road Lines & Pavement Markings for related information.
In a nutshell, yellow signs are warnings; white, black, and red are regulation signs; green and blue are information signs; and orange is for construction and/or temporary signs.
Table of Contents
Certain signs don’t share their shape with others. The stop sign is the only sign of that shape. The school zone sign (often referred to as being shaped “like a house,” is the only sign of that shape).
Intelligent drivers not only scan for signs for themselves, but also for the shapes of the signs that are facing the opposing traffic. This gives us, as drivers, immense clues and insight (wisdom). Check out my Defensive Driving Guide to learn more about how to avoid crashes.
Road Signs of Canada eBook
Road Signs of Canada – Introduction
Road signs of Canada can be understood in three ways:
- Their shape
- Their color
- The messages printed on them
Their colors mean different things:
- Warning signs – Yellow road signs are warnings of upcoming hazards. Hazards while driving are a real thing, and I’ve written about that too. If you see a speed limit on a sign with a yellow background, it’s a recommendation/advisory; not law. However, road signs are there for a reason and not merely to decorate the side of the road. Sticking to any speed advisory is always a good idea. Drivers may not get a speeding ticket if they don’t follow the speed advisory limit, but they might fall off the road. Just my opinion.
- Regulation signs – These are the law, and drivers who disobey them may receive penalties, such as Driver Penalty Points. These signs use a combination of colors that are white, black, red & green. Think speed limit signs, crosswalk signs (stopping for pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks is legally required unless you are unable to safely stop in time), and lane control signs, just as a few examples.
- Construction or temporary maintenance work signs – these are orange.
- Information & destination signs – These signs give information about destinations, route numbers, and facilities. These are most commonly green and blue. The most obvious place to see them is on highways and freeways, although they are virtually everywhere.
Obstruction Keep Left or Keep Right Sign
Sometimes, when you’re driving down the highway, there are a lot of road signs. It may seem it’s actually impossible to read them all at the same time.
- Looking to find a gas station, for example? Check out signs that are blue.
- If you want to know how far away you are from your destination, check out the green signs.
- If visibility or weather is poor, but you know where you’re going, you can probably ignore the green and blue signs safely, and focus on the yellow signs and regulation signs.
The other thing about road signs that I’ve been noticing over the years is:
- They aren’t always clean
- They aren’t always visible to you
- And they are sometimes missing from where they were supposed to be
Yes, AWOL road signs are a real thing; you heard it here first.
Stare at these road signs for as long as you want, without a seatbelt. We stare at our kids, we stare at our friends and we stare at the TV. So why can’t we stare at our road signs without bursting into flames? Well, now we can. Amen! (I’m weird; at least I know it lol).
Stop Sign Ahead Sign
White & Black & Red Road Signs Of Canada
Black & White & Red Signs Are Regulation Signs
Any combination of black, white, and red signs are regulatory signs. This means if you disregard what is on the sign, you’re breaking the law. (Read the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act which is literally “the law,” I speak of. I’d never want to be ambiguous).
Road Signs of Canada – Stop Sign
Let’s look at this typical speed sign example. You never have to drive at the speed that is on the sign; you just can’t legally drive faster.
Speed Limit Road Signs of Canada
Canadians’ road signs are in metric, so any Canadian speed sign is in kilometers (km).
- 1 mile = 1.6 km
- 1 km = 0.6 km
- Metric conversions calculator
Keep in mind it’s always up to the driver to decide on an appropriate speed, based on conditions.
Examples of conditions are weather, road conditions, driver experience, condition of the vehicle, condition of the tires, condition of the driver, etc.
How Can You Tell If There Will Be a Turning Lane?
Check for black and white signs hanging above and before intersections. These can help a lot with knowing which lane goes where. Check out my guide to Intersections in British Columbia to learn more about the different types of intersections there are.
Road Signs of Canada Lane Use Signs – Black & White
Lane use signs are signs showing which lanes you may use to turn or go straight. These are regulation signs and are mounted above the lane or at the side of the lane before the intersection. If you are in one of these types of designated lanes, you legally have to follow the direction indicated by the arrows. You can’t legally move into or out of a designated lane while you are in an intersection. Check out my related article about why it’s a bad idea to change lanes in an intersection.
Yield Sign – Regulation Sign
The yield sign is a regulation sign. If you are facing this sign, you must yield. In other words, give the right of way to the other relevant road user(s). Let them go first, before you, whenever there may be a potential conflict. This includes stopping, if necessary. Check out my full articles on Yield Signs When Driving – Driver’s How-to Guide and Right of Way Rules for Driving – Who Goes First?
Yield Signs – BC Motor Vehicle Act
173 (1)Except as provided in section 175, if 2 vehicles approach or enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time and there are no yield signs, the driver of a vehicle must yield the right of way to the vehicle that is on the right of the vehicle that he or she is driving.
(2)Except as provided in section 175, if 2 vehicles approach or enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time and there is a yield sign, the driver of a vehicle facing the sign must yield the right of way to all other traffic.Beautiful British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act
Speed Limit Change Soon Sign
This black and white Canadian speed sign with the black arrow on the top means that the speed limit is changing soon (up ahead on the road) to a slower speed limit. So you have until your vehicle is at this sign, to the next speed sign (which will be the same speed sign as this but without the arrow) to get the speed down to the maximum legal limit on the sign.
Disaster Response Route Road Sign
You may see this disaster response route sign – emergency vehicles only in a disaster – on major roads and routes. It tells drivers to stay off these routes in a major disaster or emergency so that the necessary emergency vehicles can get to where they need to.
Do Not Enter Road Signs of Canada
This regulation sign means “do not enter.” You may see it commonly on freeway exit ramps, one-way streets, and other roads.
Yellow Road Signs Of Canada
Signs with yellow backgrounds are warning signs; usually about upcoming hazards. Most warning signs are in the shape of a diamond.
A speed sign on a yellow background is a recommendation; not law.
However, we must not forget to consider the difference between recommendations and decorations.
It’s a good idea to stick to the speed on the sign. But if you go 5 km more for example, you aren’t breaking any law like you would be if the sign were on a white background. Hope that made sense.
In the following example, the road will curve to the right up ahead. If you’re looking far ahead in this case, maybe it’s obvious that there’s a curve in the road. But maybe it’s not so obvious in the dark.
These are called chevrons. Not too different from the Chevron station sign, eh?
Chevron Road Signs
If there is no speed advisory tab, it means that for this particular curve, you should be able to go the speed limit without any issues whatsoever (providing for conditions, of course).
In other words, you only need to slow down for a curve if there’s a warning sign ahead of the curve. Otherwise, the curve is not extreme enough to warrant slowing down, according to them transportation engineers. But of course, think for yourself and be extra careful in unfamiliar places.
Yellow Signs & Yellow Speed Signs
Yellow speed signs have been a colossal source of confusion for student drivers in my experience. Going by the colors, any sign on a yellow background is a warning sign. For example:
The Following sign warns of a crosswalk ahead, that’s it
The speed limit doesn’t change because of this sign. It is just telling you to watch for a pedestrian crosswalk coming up soon. You can slow down if you see a good reason of course.
Crosswalk Ahead Warning Sign
Yellow Signs Are Warning Signs
They warn of hazards ahead
It’s time to brush up on your road signs. Let’s start with something simple, a nice curve road sign. Since this is a yellow sign, it’s a warning sign. Most warning signs are yellow, and diamond‑shaped. They warn of possible hazards ahead.
Let’s see this curve ahead road sign in context
While it might be obvious during the daytime that there is a curve coming, it’s not always the case at night. Especially when it’s raining or bad visibility, one will really learn to appreciate these road signs.
Sharp Curve Ahead Warning Sign
Since the 30 km/hr speed tab is on a yellow background, this is a recommendation, not a law. However, it is obviously there for a good reason, and not for decorative purposes. If you proceed around the curve too fast, your car will tend to continue in a straight line as per physics, so do proceed with caution.
The Chevron Road Sign
Playground Zone Sign With Speed Tab
This is a warning sign for a playground zone.
Since the speed tab is white and black and not yellow, it means you legally must slow to 30 km/hr when the playground zones are in effect.
This is every single day of the year from dawn until dusk unless otherwise posted. Check out my full article on school and playground zones to learn more about them.
Road Signs of Canada: Playground Nearby Sign Without Speed Tab
The following is a sign warning that there’s a playground nearby. The speed limit does not change, because there’s no speed tab. Check out my full article on School and Playground Zones to learn more about those.
In other words, if a playground sign does not warn of a speed change, then the legal speed limit is still whatever it was before you saw the sign. It’s simply warning you because there may be children nearby. Don’t overthink it!
Playground Warning Sign
The End of the Road Checkers Sign
This is the ‘end of the road’ sign. In other words, there is no more road here.
Notice how it’s eerily similar in design to the checkered flag indicating the end of a Formula 1 car race. Just something I noticed one day while daydreaming.
Driving On the Shoulder – Yellow Road Signs Of Canada
This ‘soft shoulder’ yellow sign is a warning sign. You don’t necessarily have to slow down, because the sign does not indicate the need.
The following ‘do not drive on the shoulder’ sign is a regulation sign. Its white and black colors make it so. If you drive on the shoulder, you’re breaking the law.
Soft Shoulder Road Sign Canada
Road Signs Of Canada: What is a shoulder?
The shoulder is essential to the edge of the road. It’s not a real lane.
We aren’t supposed to drive in it, ever. Sometimes people pull over to the shoulder in emergencies or for a flat tire situation, but this is not considered safe. The shoulder is often quite narrow. Sometimes motorcycles try to speed down the shoulder, but some of them end up crashing into broken-down vehicles that have been parked there.
A question from Shannon.
Q: I know to stay toward the center line when turning left, and the curb when turning right, or to merge into the bike lane if there is one. But what about turning right when there is a shoulder but no curb?
It seems reasonable to me to move over a bit into the shoulder, but the manual is very clear that “you may not drive on or across the shoulder or edge line of the road unless a sign permits it”, so I’m not sure what to do.
Good question! Generally, driving on the shoulder is a big no-no. It is not an actual lane intended for use by vehicles and is illegal in many places.
This is generally not a safe place to drive because no one expects you to be there, there may be stuff like nails and other sharp or random objects there, or there may be broken-down vehicles.
Or, the shoulder may be reserved as a bike lane, like it is on Highway 1 in West Vancouver. Never drive on the shoulder unless you are moving there in an emergency or your vehicle is breaking down.
In terms of turning right, drivers are expected to move toward the right – but not onto the shoulder – before turning.
Some drivers will go on the shoulder anyway, even when they aren’t supposed to, so be aware of your surroundings – practice defensive driving skills – and check your mirrors & shoulder check your blind spot before turning just in case.
Sometimes motorcycles drive on the shoulder to bypass traffic, but this is positively illegal.
What’s a Soft Shoulder?
Soft shoulder means that the pavement transitions into gravel/dirt at the shoulder or edge of the lane that you are driving in.
Usually, shoulders are ‘hard’ i.e. made of normal pavement. So usually, if you drive a bit over the edge, nothing crazy will happen. However…
If your car goes off of the pavement and hits the soft shoulder, there is a possibility you could lose control of your car quite easily.
If you do find that you have somehow meandered onto the soft shoulder, the safest thing to do is to make sure you return to the pavement very gradually. Make no sudden movements; sudden movements here will bring on a sudden ‘adventure’ (not in a good way).
Road Signs Of Canada – Grade % Slope Sign
Ever wondered what this road sign means?
Basically, it means that for every 100 units you go straight, you decline by 8 units. In other words, there’s a huge hill coming up soon, so be prepared.
Road Signs Of Canada – Freeway & Highway Signs
Green Highway Signs in Canada
Green signs are typically for destinations and route numbers.
Road Signs Of Canada – Blue Highway Signs
Blue signs are often for services and attractions such as food, hotel, gas, camping, boat launch, rest area, etc.
Obstruction Road Signs Otherwise Known as Object Markers- Yellow and Black
These wonderful little signs help warn us – especially helpful at night time – that there is an object or obstruction on the road. It lets us know which side of the object we should stay to – left or right; or either way (just don’t go straight thru obviously.)
Now let’s see all these signs in a real example:
Reminder About Turning Restriction Signs & Sign Location
Road Signs Of Canada – Details… Details
Any sign white, black, red, green, or any combination of those colors is a regulation sign and refers to an action you can or can not do Right Here, Right Now.
Notice a typical crosswalk sign. It means you are legally required to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk and the crosswalk is right here, at the same location as the sign. Check out my full article on Marked and Unmarked Crosswalks in BC.
This is as opposed to the yellow sign with the same symbol, which means, “There is a pedestrian crosswalk up ahead. Be prepared to scan and stop if there are pedestrians.”
Holmes & E. Columbia – New Westminster
Enter Holmes & E. Columbia/North Road in New Westminster. This turning restriction is for the lane since it is posted at the lane, not the intersection. Drivers may still turn right at the intersection. It’s a white and black sign so it means “Do not turn right, right here,” not, “Do not turn right up there in 1/2 block.”
Road Signs Of Canada – Conclusion
Road signs of Canada are color coded so you can tell what kind of sign you’re dealing with by the color. Some colors are for regulation signs, which means you’d be breaking the law if you don’t follow the instructions on the signs.
Other signs are yellow and are meant as a warning, recommendation, or suggestion.
Blue and green signs are most commonly found on highways and freeways and mostly have to do with directions, exits, attractions, etc.
Lastly, orange signs are construction or temporary signs. Follow the instructions carefully because construction zones bring added hazards of course.
Besides the colors, you can tell a lot about road signs by their shapes. For example, the stop sign is the only sign with that shape. That shape sign will never say, for example, ‘GO,’ or anything else. It will always say ‘Stop.’ It will always be red.
This is good to know because as motorists we need to identify the ‘backs’ of signs in order to determine what the drivers facing us are seeing. This will give us a certain amount of confidence or educated guess as to what that driver is supposed to be doing or how they are supposed to be acting at a certain intersection or area.
Now that you’ve mastered road signs, why not brush up on your road lines? Those are just as important as the road signs of Canada. Drive safe!
Read more from ICBC: Learn To Drive Smart: Signs, Signals & Road Markings
Canada Road Signs eBook on Amazon
Check out Canada Road Signs eBook on Amazon. It’s not that good, just a bunch of road signs if you want to look at them.