What is the Difference Between a Regulatory Sign and an Informative Sign?

No overtaking by heavy goods road sign on highway

Road signs are everywhere in the United States, so much so that it can be easy to ignore how pervasive they are. Depending on where you are in the country, there could be anywhere from 10 to 25 or more signs in a square mile. These signs serve a particular purpose, although they can be broken down into various categories.

Two of the most common categories are regulatory and informative. While both types of signs are important for drivers, they serve unique purposes. So, let’s break down the various signs that fall into each category and compare them. Here’s everything you need to know about regulatory vs. informative signs.

What is a Regulatory Sign?

A regulatory sign is designed to inform drivers of local road laws that apply to the current driving conditions. Different variables dictate which road signs are necessary, such as the type of area it’s in (i.e., residential vs. commercial), the type of road it’s on (i.e., street vs. highway vs. freeway), and any temporary conditions such as construction. 

Examples of regulatory signs can include: 

  • Stop 
  • Yield
  • No Turn
  • One Way
  • Do Not Enter
  • Speed Limit
  • No Parking

What is an Informative Sign?

While regulatory signs are informative, their purpose is to help control traffic flow and direct drivers. Informative signs provide additional information that may be helpful for motorists. However, not all informative signs are equally valuable; some may convey information related to different tasks. 

For example, a sign indicating a campground ahead may be valuable for someone looking to go camping, but it won’t apply to most drivers on the road. Some common examples of informative signs include: 

  • Rest Stop Ahead
  • Railroad Crossing
  • Hiking Area Ahead
  • EV Charging
  • Hospital 
  • Gas Stations and Lodging Ahead

Comparing and Contrasting Regulatory vs. Informative Signs

Although you’ll likely see a mixture of both regulatory and informative signs on the road, there are some key differences between them. Let’s compare these signs based on the type of information they display, how they affect drivers, and the legal ramifications of following (or ignoring) them. We’ll also look at the different shapes and colors available for each of these signs. 

Information Displayed

Regulatory signs get their information from local laws and regulations. For example, in a residential area, the speed limit may be 25, while the limit on the freeway is 70. However, some areas may have a maximum speed limit of 65. Since drivers may travel from another state or country, they must know the maximum safe driving speed. If the law changes, the signs will change too. 

Informative signs, however, are related to a specific location, building, or landmark. For example, if a railroad crosses a specific road, there will be a railroad sign, regardless of local laws. Similarly, if there’s a rest stop off the highway, the sign will exist for as long as the rest stop does. 

Affected Drivers

Regulatory signs affect all drivers, even if they’re not paying attention. If you get pulled over for exceeding the speed limit, you can’t just claim you didn’t see it. Similarly, if there’s a one-way or do not enter sign, you must always obey those. 

Informative signs don’t affect all drivers. Some drivers may find the information valuable, while others can ignore it. The purpose is to provide information so that if a driver is looking for a specific landmark (i.e., a hospital or campground), they can find it without relying on a map or GPS. 

Legal Ramifications

If drivers fail to follow a regulatory sign, they could be issued a citation or arrested for public endangerment. For example, if someone drives 10 miles over the speed limit, they’ll likely get a speeding ticket. However, if they’re driving 25 or 40 miles over the limit, they could lose their license. 

There are usually no legal ramifications for ignoring an informative sign, but that depends on a few factors. For example, railroad crossing signs notify drivers to watch for trains. If a train is coming, it has the right of way, so drivers must yield. However, many crossings will have warning lights and drop-down partitions to block drivers from crossing the tracks when a train arrives. 

Shapes and Colors

Most regulatory signs use a combination of white, red, and black coloring, both for the background and lettering of the sign. Some signs have a unique shape, such as a stop sign (octagon) or a yield sign (triangle). Otherwise, these signs are either square or rectangular. 

According to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the colors of signs mean the following: 

  • White or Red – Regulatory (Stop Sign)
  • Yellow – Warning (Animal or Pedestrian Crossing)
  • Green – Guide (Landmark)
  • Blue – Services (Hospital)
  • Orange – Construction (Lane Closed)
  • Brown – Recreation (Campground)
  • Yellow Pentagon – School Zone

Knowing the sign color can help drivers pay closer attention to the signs that apply to them. For example, they should know to automatically pay attention to white or red signs and yellow signs as they appear. However, blue and brown signs may be inapplicable to their current driving situation, so they can ignore them without worrying about legal repercussions. 

Get Regulatory and Informative Signs from Worksafe Traffic Control Industries

Worksafe Traffic Control Industries provides high-quality sign printing for all road signs. Whether your city or municipality needs regulatory, prohibitive, or informative signs, all our products are MUTCD-compliant. We also offer fast turnaround times in case a sign gets damaged by weather or a vehicle collision. 

We understand these signs’ importance to local areas and pride ourselves on producing the best results possible. Contact us today to find out more.

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