Signs form an integral part of the road landscape and an essential tool for communicating with road users. They must therefore be designed and installed in a way that helps drivers during their entire trip by allowing them to adapt their driving to the different situations that can arise and to avoid hesitating or making wrong moves.
Signs must help drivers anticipate any necessary moves or other changes in direction and give them sufficient advance notice to prepare. In addition to serving as a guide by indicating the roads to take and any dangers along the way (curves or steep slopes, soft shoulders, slippery pavement, etc.), they remind drivers of the numerous rules stipulated in the Highway Safety Code and municipal by-laws.
The language used on road signs must therefore be clear and easy enough for everyone to understand. As such, it is constantly being changed and studied in an effort to improve road safety and free traffic flow.
The legal basis for the road signs used in Québec is set forth in Title VII of theHighway Safety Code.
Section 289 of the Code stipulates that “the meaning of a road or traffic sign message, whatever the medium, is the meaning assigned to the sign” by the Minister of Transport. It further stipulates that the manufacturing and installation standards for road signs or signals to be erected on a public highway are determined by the Minister of Transport and set out in a document, in this case, Volume V – Traffic Control Devices of the Normes – Ouvrages routiers collection.
The first traffic lights appeared in Detroit, Michigan, in 1910, but it was only in the early 1920s that road and traffic signs involving the use of symbols were introduced. The initiative was taken by J. Omer Martineau, an assistant chief engineer with the ministère de la Voirie du Québec.
Mr. Martineau recognized that not all drivers were able to read but that they all wanted to drive! In 1923, he undertook to replace signs containing texts by illustrated signs using symbols to depict curves, intersections and so on. In the same year, the Canadian Good Road Conditions Association adopted some of these elements for use on Canada's road network.
The principle of signs that use symbols won recognition at the Conference on Road and Motor Transport of 1949. A Québec idea that went far.
Road and traffic signs include signs, pavement markings and traffic lights. For the sake of clarity, signs use very little text and many symbols, and generally speaking, can be understood at a quick glance.
The symbols and colours used on signs are for the most part standardized, according to the standards applicable in Québec but also taking international conventions into account. Green circle means mandatory; red circle means prohibitory. Yellow is associated with danger and orange with road works.
To convey the meaning of the sign, easily recognizable pictograms are used as much as possible, such as a car, bicycle, pedestrian, or railroad crossing.
In some cases, motorists still have to make an effort to interpret the sign in light of the context where it appears. For example, a pictogram of a truck generally means that the sign concerns trucks specifically, but occasionally, it applies to tool vehicles and tow trucks.
In other cases, which are fortunately very rare, the pictogram used is abstract and can only be understood if one has learned what it means. For example, you have to know that a black square tilted to a 45-angle means a dangerous substance carrier.
In summary, everything possible is done to make signs instantly recognizable and understandable, but motorists still have to study the signage system.
Categories of Signs
Specific shapes and colours are used in the design of road and traffic signs. Each of these shapes and colours has a specific meaning. It is essential that drivers be able to recognize them from a distance in order to react appropriately.
Road and traffic signs are divided into four main categories. The ability to recognize which category a sign belongs to immediately makes its meaning more evident.
The following pages show examples of the least known or newest signs in each category. For a more complete listing of road and traffic signs, please consult our publications.