The learner driver’s guide to Irish Traffic Signs

As you start out on your driving career, knowing your traffic signs is just as important as learning the Rules of the Road. With Ireland’s roads festooned with traffic signs, learning and understanding these signs is an integral part of driver education, and part of the legal criteria for getting a full driver’s licence in Ireland. It is a key component in both the theory and practical elements of the learning to drive process. If you’ve ever travelled on an Irish road (either as a driver or a passenger), you’ll know that there’s almost always a traffic sign in your field of vision giving you directions on how to navigate the road safety. Strategically placed along the carriageway, signs tell you what specific rules apply in a given situation, this can include:

  • Informing you of the speed limit.
  • letting you know whether you can overtake.
  • warning you about hazards to watch out for.

Whether driving on an urban street, a motorway or country road, you are guaranteed to encounter dozens of different traffic signs proving vital information about the road ahead. Traffic signs on Irish roads come in different…

  • Shapes
  • Colours
  • Symbols
  • Sizes

SHAPES

The shape of a traffic sign plays an important role in what it means and gives you a specific type of command to follow while driving. There are five basic shapes in the traffic sign system. Generally, shapes with smooth curves (circles) convey a friendlier message to road users than shapes with jagged edges and sharp points (octagon and diamond).

COLOURS

The colour of a traffic sign is an important indicator of the information that it contains. Each colour code used on a sign has a specific meaning attached to it and tells the driver what to expect ahead. Traffic signs in Ireland have eight distinctive colours. Generally, colours are classified into three groups:

  • Warn colours (red – orange – yellow)
  • Cool colours (blue and green)
  • Neutral colours (brown – white – grey)

SHAPE and COLOUR COMBINATIONS

In order for traffic signs to be effective, a standard shape and colour code is used to enable a motorist to identify a sign from a distance. Each category of signs has its own design feature and function depending on the colour of the background and the shape of the sign. The general principles and rules are quite straightforward…..just learn what each shape and colour combination means.

OTHER SHAPES

There are a few exceptions to the shape and colour code……this is to give greater prominence to some important signs. Even if these signs are obscured due to fog or snow and can’t be read, the unique shape of the sign alone will enable a motorist to recognise an impending hazard ahead.

SYMBOLS

There is a wide range of signs in different categories in the traffic sign system which use simplified symbols instead of written instructions to convey their message. These symbols are used on the road network to…..

  • enable motorists to instantly recognise and understand a sign when travelling at speed.
  • overcome any language barriers (foreign tourists or resident drivers whose first language isn’t Irish or English).
  • mainly standardise signs throughout Europe

As there aren’t as many rules and principles that you can follow, learning the symbols is probably the hardest part of understanding what traffic signs mean. While some of them are intuitive, others need explanation. Study the symbols in small chunks and build up your knowledge over time. 

SIZES

Traffic signs on Irish roads come in many different sizes depending on the message that needs to be relayed. This can range from…..

  • huge signs spanning the width of three motorway lanes and delivering multiple directions – warnings – lane guidance to…
  • much smaller signs on single carriageway roads with a single image.

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

REGULATORY SIGNS

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 MARKINGS

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 sign system.

TRAFFIC SIGNALS

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
  • GREEN
  • AMBER
  • 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.

WARNING SIGNS

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.

INFORMATION 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

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

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.

VARIABLE MESSAGE SIGNS

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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