How Road Signs and Markings Save Lives
Every time we hit the road, we see road signs and markings along the way but not all of us know what they mean. Some think that the white markings and lines on the road are simply for decoration while others ignore traffic signs. This lack of knowledge about traffic signs and road markings and/or disregarding them are the most common causes of the increase in road traffic crashes that kill and injure road users, according to the World Health Organization. For this reason, non-profit, public service-oriented non-government organizations like the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) are focused on promoting road safety.
Over the years, AAP, as a club member of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) together with other local private organizations has implemented various road safety campaigns to reduce road traffic injuries and fatalities. Among the road safety initiatives that AAP has taken up is the education of road users – motorists, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists -- to help them respond effectively to road signs and markings.
Standardizing Traffic Signs
To ensure that road traffic signs will be instantly recognized and understood by all road users and thereby improve road safety, the United Nations requested its member countries to sign an international treaty that standardized the road traffic system for international use.
The Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals was created on November 8, 1968 during the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO) Conference on Road Traffic at Vienna, Austria. A total of 52 contracting countries including the Philippines agreed to accept the system as described in the convention. However, the Philippines adopted the system only five years later due to the failure of the Congress to ratify it. Amendments, including new provisions regarding the legibility of signs, markings, priority at roundabouts and new signs to improve safety in tunnels were formally adopted by then President Ferdinand Marcos on June 6, 1973 under Presidential Decree No. 207.
A “hybrid” road sign translates a traffic rule into the vernacular.
The Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) carry out the internationally prescribed uniform traffic rules and signs to facilitate foreign nationals and tourists whose language differences may create barriers. But since Pilipino/ Tagalog is the country’s national language, the DPWH also posts “hybrid” road signs that have a Tagalog translation underneath to achieve the widest public comprehension. Although hybrid road signs are acceptable, they are not generally recommended unless absolutely necessary.
Unfortunately, some commercial establishments post road signs that have no traffic redeeming value since they only advertise products or services and/or show the way to the commercial enterprise’s location. These commercial road signs only serve to distract and confuse motorists, so they do not promote road safety and therefore should be removed by the pertinent government authorities like the DPWH and Metro Manila Development Authority.
A commonly seen regulatory road sign.
Going back to international standard road signs, Article 2 of the Vienna Convention classifies road signs under several categories. The three most common are regulatory signs, warning signs and informative signs. The regulatory signs reinforce traffic laws, regulations or requirements which either are applied at all times or under circumstances, upon a street or highway. The warning signs on the other hand, notify road users about road condition or hazards ahead while the informative road signs inform road users of directions, distances, routes, location of services and points of interest.
The Vienna Convention also specifies the symbols and pictograms that can be used in these signs. All signs, except for those that are not needed at night, must be reflectorized enough to be visible in darkness by headlights from a distance.
Precise shapes and sizes for each sign were also provided. The octagon red shape is exclusively for the STOP sign. The equilateral triangle with one point vertically downward is especially for the GIVE WAY sign. The circle symbols are reserved for regulatory signs while the equilateral triangle with one point vertically upward is mainly for warning signs.
Solid white lines on both edges of the road mean that parking is prohibited.
Road lane markings also convey important messages. Like road signs, road lane markings inform the road user on what action he or she should and should not be taking. They also indicate regulations for parking and stopping and generate noise to alert drowsy motorists.
Broken white center lines are the most common type of road surface markings. The white center line is used to separate traffic movements on the road. If it is solid, drivers may overtake only if it is safe to do so. If solid white lines are drawn along both edges of the road, they mean that parking is prohibited. Another type of white line markings is diagonal stripes or chevrons that are used to keep traffic lanes apart or to protect any traffic that is turning right.
Crosswalks are white lines that are used to protect pedestrians. Motor vehicles are advised to slow down when approaching crosswalks and zebra lines except when the traffic is regulated by an officer or traffic lights.
Rumble strips rouse inattentive drivers.
Rumble strips or sleeper lines are a series of simple troughs that is ground out of the asphalt. It is a series of white lines that when driven over by a vehicle will generate tactile vibration and audible rumbling to the wheels, then into the car body. Rumble strips are used to alert inattentive drivers of potential danger ahead or signal them when they drift from their lane.
A solid yellow line that marks the center of the road separates the traffic travelling in opposite directions. Overtaking is permitted in one direction only. If the solid yellow line becomes double, all vehicles must keep right and should not overtake unless entering or leaving a driveway or private road or to make a permitted "U" turn.
A solid yellow line at the center is used to warn motorists not to overtake while a broken yellow line means overtaking is allowed if the way ahead and the rear are clear.
An example of double yellow lines at the center equipped with cat’s eyes.
Some road markings feature cat’s eyes, a retro reflective safety device used to enhance lane visibility especially on roads that lack street lighting but are subject to high speeds or high volumes of traffic. Cat’s eyes are made of reflective glass spheres or reflective lenses set in a plastic or polycarbonate lense box.
Road signs and lane markings can save lives if only motorists would pay attention to their purposes and meanings. Ignorance and negligence should not be an excuse for road users who got involved in road crashes. To be safe on the road, be informed and follow traffic rules as indicated by road signs and lane markings.