You’ll see road signs, traffic signals, and pavement markings everywhere you look in Washington.
There are so many of them…
And keeping everything in your head becomes challenging.
This is why, here, we’re going to make it easy for you.
We’re going to give you the basics in figuring out what a Washington road sign means.
Moreover, we’ll also look at the signals and markings.
Remember, knowing they’re meaning (and obeying them) will help you be the safest driver…
It will also help you avoid those annoying traffic tickets…
Or be able to pass the permit test on your first try.
So let’s dive right in!
Washington Traffic Signals
Let’s start simple.
As a driver (or maybe you don’t drive yet), you should already know what the traffic signals mean.
So let’s just quickly go over them…
Most traffic signals have three colors — red, yellow, and green.
However, don’t be surprised to see a single green, yellow, or red light at some intersections.
But what do these colors mean?
A green light indicates you can enter and cross an intersection.
However, you must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and emergency vehicles before proceeding.
Washington State requires you to let crossing traffic clear before you start moving.
You can turn left if the light is green (unless there’s a No Left Turn sign), but ensure it’s safe.
Remember, your turn isn’t protected, so oncoming traffic has the right of way.
A green arrow means go — but only applies to the direction it’s pointing.
When turning, always be mindful of any pedestrians or bicyclists crossing your path. You must yield the right of way if they’re already one lane in on your side.
A steady yellow light warns you that it’s about to turn red.
In this scenario, it’s best to stop before entering the intersection. However, if you’re already in it, continue quickly but carefully.
A flashing yellow light requires you to slow down and check your surroundings. You can continue but do so carefully.
A yellow arrow signals that you should prepare to stop (if you’re going in the direction it’s pointing). You can complete your turn if the light hasn’t turned red yet. But don’t forget to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic.
A flashing yellow arrow allows left turns, but oncoming traffic and pedestrians have priority. You must always yield the right-of-way to them.
A steady red light means you must stop and cannot continue driving until it turns green.
You can turn right (unless there’s a No Turn on Red Signal sign), but only after coming to a complete stop. The same applies if you’re turning left into a one-way street.
Watch out for pedestrians and cyclists crossing your path in both scenarios.
A flashing red light requires you to come to a complete stop. But after looking around, you can cautiously proceed without waiting for the light to turn green.
A red arrow is like a red light, but only in the direction it points.
Washington Traffic Signs
Traffic signs are harder to determine.
To help you with this, we’ll go over the 5 types of Washington traffic signs. These are:
- Warning signs
- Railroad crossing warning signs
- Work area signs
- Regulatory signs
- Guide signs
All traffic signs fall under one of these categories.
You’re not likely to miss warning signs — not with their bright yellow (or yellow-green) color and (usually) diamond shape.
And that’s the point.
It calls your attention and tells you what to expect ahead. These can be sharp curves or other hazards and changes in road conditions.
Here are some warning signs you may encounter on Washington roadways:
Lane Ends, Merge Left
|Advance Warning: Bicycle||Pedestrian Crossing|
|School Crossing||Divided Highway Begins||Divided Highway Ends||Added Lane||Slippery When Wet|
Sharp Curve Right
Speed Zone Ahead
|Winding Road||Cross Road||Merging Traffic||Signal Ahead|
Curve Left Recommended Speed: 35 mph or less
Railroad Crossing Warning Signs
Why have a separate category when these are also warning signs?
Because these have everything to do with railroad crossings only.
And these are somewhat easy to spot as (1) it will be near a railroad crossing, and (2) it usually has a crossbuck design.
Here are some examples:
So, when you see any of the above, keep these things in mind:
- Don’t attempt to beat the train across the tracks.
- Only cross when the way ahead is clear.
- Ensure there’s enough space on the other side (you don’t want a quarter of your car to be on the tracks).
- If there are multiple tracks, remember that trains can come from either direction.
- Always obey the track signs.
- If there is a red light or lowered gate, do not attempt to go over it.
Work Area Signs
You’ll know when there’s ongoing maintenance or construction when you spot orange signs with black markings.
These are work area signs.
They may require you to slow down, detour, or share the road with slow-moving vehicles. Others may warn you of a change in the road surface.
You may also notice people with signs or flags. They’re there to manage the traffic flow, so follow their directions when you’re in the area.
Remember, you must yield the right-of-way to road work equipment, highway construction personnel, or vehicles with flashing yellow lights.
Not doing so may lead to violations — and fines double when you’re in a work zone.
If you want to know what you can or can’t do, watch for regulatory signs.
These provide information about the following:
- Traffic direction
- Lane use
- Speed limit
- And more!
Regulatory signs come in all shapes and colors…
Usually, though, it is a mix of red, black, and white — or are digital signs.
Here are some regulatory signs you’ll constantly see on Washington roadways.
|Most indicate the maximum speed limit in an area. However, remember that these assume ideal conditions. If there’s inclement weather, such as rain, snow, or fog, you must go slower. |
Others indicate a minimum limit — you can’t drive slower than the posted number. Otherwise, you’ll begin obstructing traffic.
|Digital Signs||Unlike other signs, these are digital. They are placed above lanes to tell you which lane you can use and which one is for the opposite traffic flow.|
|More Digital Signs||Here’s another digital regulatory sign. These signs tell you when you have to merge to the left, left and right, or right.|
|Lane Use Control||These often use an arrow to let you know where you can go or turn. So if you see these, you can go straight, turn left, turn right, or make a U-turn. |
You’ll find these on the roadside or hanging over lanes.
|No Passing||It indicates that you cannot pass other vehicles. Passing is only possible if you can see far ahead, so you may find this sign near hills, curves, or intersections. Another variation of this sign is a yellow or orange triangle on the left side of the road.|
|The stop sign is unique in that it is the only octagonal-shaped sign. It requires you to come to a complete stop before the stop line, crosswalk, or intersection. You can proceed when the road is clear of pedestrians or crossing motorists.|
|This is also easy to spot as it’s a red sign with white markings, shaped like a downward-pointing triangle. It requires you to slow down and yield the right of way to pedestrians or oncoming traffic before proceeding.|
Do Not Enter
|This marks roadways you cannot enter. You may also see it on exit ramps, crossovers, and one-way streets. It’s usually a square-shaped sign with a white horizontal line cutting across a red circle.|
|Disabled Parking||You cannot park in the space unless you have the appropriate plates or placards. Violating this sign may cost you $250 in fines.|
Here are other self-explanatory regulatory signs in Washington State:
You may also run into traction advisories. These mark areas where you must have chains on your tires.
If you don’t use them, you can face a $500 fine.
There are 3 types of guide signs in Washington.
- Destination signs. These are either square or rectangular and can be green or brown with white lettering. Following them may lead you to airports, cities, national parks, and museums, among other places.
- Service Signs. Gas stations, rest areas, and hospitals are service facilities that you might need while driving. You can find these by following the blue with white marking symbol signs.
- Route Number Signs. These tell you the kind of roadway you’re on — interstate, U.S., state, city, or county. These signs will only make sense if you use a map.
Washington Pavement Markings
The last thing we’ll go over is pavement markings.
These aren’t exactly signs.
However, they work the same way as signs do — so it’s important to learn about them too.
White Lane Markings
White lines usually separate lanes going in the same direction.
Now, if the white lines are solid, that means passing is prohibited.
If the white lines are broken, then you’re allowed to pass in the area.
You may also see solid white lines marking both edges of two-way roads (or to the right of one-way streets). These tell you where traffic lanes end and where the shoulder begins.
Moreover, white lines separate bicycle lanes from regular traffic.
Yellow Lane Markings
You’ll see yellow lines painted on the road to:
- Separate traffic going in opposite directions
- Mark the left edge of a one-way road
Like white lane markings, broken yellow lines allow you to pass other vehicles, while solid ones prohibit you from doing it.
Sometimes, you’ll see a solid yellow line beside broken ones. The vehicle on the side of the broken lines is allowed to pass, while the one on the side of the solid line isn’t.
Other Lane Markings
Besides yellow and white lane markings, you may also encounter the following:
- Medians. Not all barriers between multi-lane highways are physical. Sometimes it appears as a solid 18-inch yellow pavement marking or yellow crosshatchings between two solid yellow lines.
- Crosswalks and Stop Lines. Crosswalks mark where pedestrians and cyclists can cross. You must yield to them before proceeding. A Stop Line indicates where you must stop due to a red light or a stop sign.
- Bicycle Lanes. A solid white line separates it from regular traffic lanes, and an image of a bike marks it.
Sometimes you’ll see additional markings separating bicycles from traffic. These include chevron markings or diagonal cross-hatching between two solid white lines.
Planters, bollards, or posts may also serve as physical barriers.
You cannot use a bicycle lane except when making a legal turn.
- Bicycle Boxes. You’ll find these at intersections. They allow cyclists to turn when approaching a red light. They’re hard to miss because they’re painted green and marked with a bike symbol.
You must stop before a bicycle box, whether or not there are cyclists present.
- Reserved Lanes. Some lanes are ‘reserved’ for transits, buses, high occupancy vehicles, etc… These lanes are easy to spot as the lane will have a sign painted on “reserved for special use”.
- Two-Way Left Turn Lanes. If you see a lane with two solid lines and two broken lines inside it, plus two arrows, that is a shared center lane. Both traffic directions should use it to turn left only.
The Wrap Up
And that was your complete guide to the Washington road signs.
If you can’t memorize everything — don’t fret.
It’s a good idea to start with the types of signs, the colors, and the shapes.
From there, you’ll start to notice these signals, signs, and markings and start to understand what each one means.
So good luck with your driving!