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Understanding Road Traffic Signs When Travelling Abroad

Every year, millions of British motorists take the plunge and drive abroad. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of British people who decide to drive abroad aren’t 100% clear on the meanings of the foreign road signs they encounter on their travels.

1. Get familiar with the road signs used in your destination before you arrive

Simply going ‘traffic signs in …’ will give you plenty of free and easily accessible information regarding the traffic signs used in your country of choice and their meanings. Familiarising¬† yourself with the kind of traffic signs you are likely to encounter during your trip before you set up will help you feel more at ease driving along the roads when you get there. Alternatively, you will probably be able to buy a handy tourist guide with a key to the country’s road traffic signs from a bookstore, or even from the airport. Read it on your way there to ease some of the boredom of flying.

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2. Know the international road signs

Thanks to the Vienna Convention (or, as it is known in full, the Convention on Road Signs and Signals), there are some signs that are regarded as ‘international’ and can be understood by drivers from numerous countries. The fundamental aim of the Vienna Convention was to improve safety on the roads by ensuring that all drivers could recognise and understand the road traffic signs they encountered. The Convention lays out precise rules regarding sign design; for example, danger signs must be either triangular or diamond in shape and either white or yellow or yellow respectively in colour. The symbol embossed on the sign must be either black or dark blue. Even the size of the signs is set! Even so, not all countries are involved in the Vienna Convention, however, so you don’t assume that stop and danger signs in the country you’re visiting are going to be identical to those at home – even in nearby countries such as Spain, signs differ to the extent that they are completely unintelligible to UK drivers.

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3. Familiarise yourself with the meanings of colours and shapes

In some countries (such as Greece, for example), the road signs you encounter will be similar in layout depending on their meaning, but may be inscribed with instructions, warnings or information that is (unsurprisingly) written in the country’s native language. The chances of you understanding what’s written on such signs are zero to none, and even if you have come across the signs previously during your research, it’s unlikely that you are going to be able to remember the translation of every single sign on the list exactly when you’re driving. Instead, it’s much easier to familiarise yourself with the styles of road signs. For example, if you see a triangular sign with red-edging here in the UK, it’s pretty obvious that the sign is giving a warning of some kind and you need to proceed carefully, even if you don’t understand the English language. The same can be said of signs abroad; simply understanding that the sign you are encountering is signalling some kind of danger will give you the heads-up to proceed carefully and with caution.