No, Not a Sequel to That Alien Movie With Mel Gibson
But I can understand your confusion. After all, what could be better than to finally get a sequel to the farmhouse alien invasion film featuring the star of Lethal Weapon and Braveheart as a dad who complains that his kid leaves glasses of water everywhere without finishing them? I envision a sequel where the water-vulnerable aliens return wearing wetsuits and Mel and his now-grown children have to figure out how to defeat neoprene.
Alas, that is not our subject. No, on this occasion we are addressing traffic signs. Yes, although some people pretend not to see these wonderful signs, driving past them without paying them any heed, as if to say "signs? Never heard of 'em," they are, like aliens, very real. For many, they are also very confusing. Not to worry. We have more traffic signage tips than the house in Signs has glasses of water.
They Come in Colors Everywhere
While some believe that traffic signs are only colored for style purposes, the truth is that their color scheme has a very important meeting. Consider the following common sign colors:
Yellow: While 'yellow' is used as an insult meaning 'cowardly,' it is definitely not yellow to demonstrate general caution when in a zone marked for caution by a yellow traffic sign.
Green: These helpful signs provide directional information and indicate distance.
Red: Like when someone's face is red with anger, or a poison dart frog is bright red, or your chicken breast is red, red traffic signs mean 'stop.' They can also mean 'yield,' in certain circumstances (don't yield to poison dart frogs; always stop for them).
Blue: Blue signs offer useful information for road users and tourists. They may also indicate evacuation routes. However, if you see a large blue person on the sign, and the sign is a billboard, it may not be a traffic sign at all, but rather an advertisement for the Blue Man Group.
Orange: Orange signs are used in road areas undergoing construction and maintenance to warn you of unusual traffic conditions.
Know Your Shapes
You may not have worried about learning your shapes since childhood, but knowing the meaning of traffic sign shapes is essential for any driver.
Octagon: Not just a fighting ring. This shape is used only for stop signs, so get that braking foot ready. For fun on a long road trip, yell 'octagon' every time you stop at a stop sign. Your friends and family will love this.
Circle: This shape is used only for railroad crossing warning signs. Train yourself to watch out for these signs; it could keep you on the right side of the tracks.
Downward-Facing Triangle: Not to be confused with a popular yoga pose, this sign shape, and orientation are used only with yield signs.
Diamond: Unlike real diamonds, which everyone seems to like and want more of, this shape is used to indicate caution.
Crossbuck (X-Shaped): With apologies to nerds everywhere, this sign does not mean one is nearing the secret lair of the X-Men. On the contrary, it means you are near a railroad crossing and you should be paying attention instead of worrying about what happened to Professor X's hair.
Addressing a Common Point of Confusion
Many drivers seem to confuse stop signs with yield signs. Disregarding the obvious difference between a downward-facing triangle and a glorious octagon, they lightly tap their brakes at stop signs before blasting their way into a line of traffic, battling for pole position like a salmon fighting upstream. Don't be like them. Always come to a full, complete stop at stop signs, and when you see a yield sign, be sure to adhere to the most important part of yielding: the part where you actually yield.
There's More to Explore
This is far from a comprehensive list of every permutation of sign shape and color. It behooves responsible drivers everywhere to dive into the world of traffic signs and explore all of the possibilities they might encounter.
Once you've memorized every sign and color, you can explain them all in rigorous detail to your family at the holiday dinner table. It's a sure way to keep everyone distracted as you eat both turkey legs or take the finest slices of honey-glazed ham for yourself. If anyone calls you out as you load up your third plate, you can always say, "so what? I didn't see a red octagon."