Irish Traffic Signs

Traffic signs are a vital part of any road system. Signs provide an important and necessary function in directing, informing and controlling vehicular traffic while, at the same time, providing a safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists. They also provide information on regulations and restrictions, draw attention to potential hazards and inform motorists of directions, destinations and places of interest. For traffic signs to be effective a standard classification is used to aid identification. As a learner driver it is important to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of this system as each category of signs has its own distinctive meaning. Strategically placed along the carriageway, signs have different shapes, colours and an ever increasing number of symbols to enable a message to be relayed… important message that road users need to instantly recognise and identify at a glance. As well as upright static post signs, signs also come in the form of road markings, traffic signals, temporary signs and other devices. Not only do signs guide and direct us in reaching our destination but they also instruct and protect us as we navigate our way through various road networks. Whether you have just passed a theory test or have booked a driving test, studying this guide will not only help you to become a more confident and a safer driver but will also prepare you for both the oral (theory) exam and the practical “L” test. Remember: preinformed candidates will naturally get fewer questions wrong at the start of their theory exam and will make fewer mistakes during the practical part of their test.

Roads in Ireland are festooned with traffic signs. You may not be aware that there are actually eight types of signs in the traffic signs system.

Traffic signs, signals and road markings are divided into three basic categories: signs that must be obeyed, signs that give warnings and signs that give information


These signs are divided into several groups:

  • upright post signs
  • road markings
  • traffic signals


Upright post signs can come in various shapes:

  • circular, octagonal, triangular or rectangular


And generally come in two formats:

  • a white background with a red border and black symbols, letters or numbers
  • blue background with white symbols or letters

These signs imply a prohibitory or mandatory traffic regulation. They indicate what you “must” or “must not” do as a road user in accordance with road traffic law. All road users must, at all times, obey these signs.



Road surface markings can be defined as lines, patterns, symbols and words and are designed to inform, control, guide and warn all road users on regulations, restrictions, procedures and hazards. Currently, there are over sixty road surface markings in the traffic signs system.



Traffic signals guide, warn and regulate the flow and orderly movement of vehicular traffic, of pedestrians and of cyclists. Everybody is probably familiar with the different lights and symbols on traffic signals but here’s a quick reminder.

Traffic signals in Ireland have a three-phase sequence which changes in a set cycle:

  • RED
  • RED

Note: Various types of pedestrian and cycle crossings have a different colour sequence to those used at normal traffic signals.

When approaching a junction or crossing, watch out for the following:

  • advanced stop lines
  • solid green filter arrows
  • flashing amber filter arrows
  • static regulatory signs
  • flashing amber beacons or signals


Special traffic signals

In some locations, special signals are used to control traffic at opening or swing bridges or at other special sites such as level crossings or fire stations.

They may be either:

  • normal traffic signals or
  • double flashing red signals


School crossings

A pair of alternating amber flashing signals will warn traffic of a school crossing point ahead. In some busy locations electronic speed limit signs may also be present.



These signs are divided into two groups:

  • permanent signs
  • temporary signs

Permanent warning signs are diamond or rectangular shaped, featuring a black border with black symbols or text on a yellow background. They provide advance warning of particular hazards ahead to all road users.

Temporary warning signs are commonly seen at roadworks and are generally diamond or rectangular shaped, featuring a black border with black symbols or text on an orange background. They are provided to warn, instruct and guide road users safely through or around work sites. At present, there are over a 150 permanent and temporary warning symbols displayed on Irish traffic signs.


As the name suggests, these signs give information about location, direction and distance.

Information signs are generally divided into three groups:

  • motorway
  • all-purpose roads
  • tourist information 

Motorway signs generally have a blue background with white letters, numbers or symbols. Signs may be found overhead or at the side of the road. Currently, there are over sixty different types of signs and symbols on an Irish motorway.

Roads other than motorways are known as all-purpose roads. These are classified as national primary roads, national secondary roads, regional and local roads. Direction signs on national roads are designated by the letter “N” and have a green background with yellow route numbers and white lettering.

Direction signs on regional and local roads are designated by the letters “R” and “L” and have a white background with black route numbers and lettering. When travelling on narrow and winding rural roads pay special attention to warning signs as you may encounter:


  • dangerous corners and bends
  • bumps and hollows
  • sharp depressions
  • agricultural traffic
  • pedestrians and cyclists
  • livestock and wildlife crossing


Tourist information signs are provided for guidance to sites of public recreation or cultural interest and have a brown background with white text and symbols. They are generally stand-alone signs but, in some situations, brown panels may be incorporated into other direction signs. Symbols are often used to indicate the type of attraction, facility or service available. Where the full name and symbol have been shown on advance direction signs, subsequent signs at junctions further along the route may only show the corresponding symbol. Currently, there are over 75 tourist information symbols displayed on Irish traffic signs.


Parking signs can be divided into two groups:

  • on-street
  • off-street 

On-street parking

On-street parking in cities and towns in Ireland normally has a pay & display or a disc parking scheme in operation. Signs are normally adjacent to the carriageway and they indicate the type of parking that is in place, the times and days on which it operates and the duration of parking time allowed. In busy cities and towns parking restriction signs, road markings and information plates may be present.


Off-street parking

Signs that indicate off-street parking facilities, such as car parks, generally have a white background with black text and a blue and white “P” symbol. Direction signs for off-street parking are usually static but electronic signs may be provided in some locations.


A variable message sign (VMS) is an electronic traffic sign that is usually located on various sections of motorway or dual carriageway and positioned either overhead or at the side of the road. Information can be relayed in real time and can warn motorists of events such as traffic conditions and journey times, incidents and lane closures, roadworks and alternative routes, road conditions and weather reports. Always pay attention to variable message signs and follow any instructions or advice that may be given.

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