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Nevada, just like other states, uses traffic controls to regulate the movement of motor vehicles on the road. Traffic controls include signs, signals, pavement markings, and curb markings which may be beside, above or on the roadway. These help to make driving a safer and more satisfying experience for all of us. They each serve one of three purposes:
- Regulate the speed and movement of traffic on the road.
- Warn drivers of hazards or changing conditions ahead.
- Inform drivers of the route leading to their destination or local and state regulations governing the road.
Traffic controls are basically useless unless drivers know their meaning. When you apply for your license, you must show that you know what they mean before you are issued your license. Always scan the road for traffic signs and signals, not just hazards, when approaching an intersection. Many intersections have traffic signals or signs to regulate traffic flowing through the intersection. Even with these controls in place, some users of the road choose to ignore them, so you need to drive defensively by slowing down and being careful whenever you go through an intersection.
This chapter gives an overview of these traffic controls. Become familiar with each type so you can recognize what you need to do whenever you encounter these controls on the road.
In the early days of road travel, private automobile clubs controlled and maintained separate roads. These clubs erected their roads with signs. However, there were problems: the clubs were competing against each other. As a result, several signs were often posted on the same road. These signs promoted a particular club to help it generate revenue, not to help guide drivers or keep them safe. All these different signs, as you can imagine, confused drivers. But efforts to standardize traffic signs did not begin in earnest until the early 1920s. It would take decades more before drivers finally had an official standard.
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which set standards for traffic controls, was released in 1935. However, it took more than 30 years before it became the official standard. Congress passed a law in 1966 requiring states to adhere to U.S. Department of Transportation standards by the end of 1968. Two years after this law was passed, the Department of Transportation officially adopted the MUTCD. Today you can travel from one state to another and feel confident that signs, signals, lines and curb markings still mean the same.
Determining the Right-of-Way
What happens if two vehicles from different directions come to a four-way intersection (either marked with stop signs or with no signs or signals) at the same time? One of these drivers will have to yield the right-of-way to the other because otherwise one of two things will have to happen: they will be at a standstill, or they will crash into each other. Most people will not wait around, which means a crash is the more likely result. Nevada law says that in this instance the driver on the left must yield to the one on the right.
Right-of-way laws are laws of courtesy based on social norms. They were established to help people drive safely by allowing them to make quick decisions. However, they do not determine who has the right-of-way. These rules dictate who must yield, or give up, the right-of-way in specific situations. Thus no one can claim the right-of-way. Everyone who uses the roadway, from the driver to the pedestrian, is expected to do everything possible to avoid a crash. Following are some common right-of-way situations and what you must do in each.
Single or two-lane road intersecting with multiple-lane highway. When driving on a single or two-lane road, you must yield to:
- vehicles traveling on a divided street or highway; and
- vehicles traveling on a roadway with three or more lanes (i.e., when using the on-ramp to enter the freeway.)
Unpaved road intersecting with paved road. If you are driving on an unpaved road which intersects with one that is paved, you must yield the right-of-way to vehicles traveling on the paved road.
Intersections not controlled by signs or signals. When approaching an intersection of this type, you must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle that is approaching or has entered the intersection on your right. If the road to your right is clear, or if approaching vehicles are far enough from the intersection to make your crossing safe, you may proceed.
"T" Intersections. When approaching from a street that ends at the intersection, you must first stop and then yield the right-of-way to any vehicles traveling on the through street.
Turning left at an intersection. When turning left, you must yield the right-of-way to any vehicles coming straight through from the other direction.
Private roads and driveways. When entering or crossing a road, street, or highway from a private road, alley, building, or driveway after stopping prior to the sidewalk, you must yield the right-of-way to all approaching vehicles and pedestrians.
Entering or leaving a controlled-access highway. If driving on an access or feeder road (frontage road) of a controlled-access highway, you must yield the right-of-way to a vehicle entering or about to enter the highway.
Driving on multiple-lane roadways. If you are driving on a roadway divided into three or more lanes providing for one-way movement, and you are entering a lane of traffic from a lane to the right, you must yield the right-of-way to a vehicle entering the same lane of traffic from a lane to the left.
Never insist on taking the right-of-way, even if you believe it's yours. Remember, no one can have the right-of-way; it must be given. Do not insist on proceeding if the other driver refuses to yield to you. Play it safe and yield. If the other driver expects you to move because it's your turn, take it. Adhering to right-of-way laws will help make your drive more pleasant. More importantly, it will help you avoid crashes.
Traffic signs communicate the information you need to travel on the roadway. This is done mainly through colors and shapes so you don't have to stop and read each one that you see. Different colors and shapes are reserved for different purposes, which helps make the task of identifying them much easier and faster, especially on the road. Traffic signs also have legends, which are words or symbols that communicate specific information. They may require a little more time to decipher but are just as important as a sign's color and shape.
Colors of Signs
Red - This color is used on regulatory signs to tell drivers that a certain action is prohibited or use of a road is restricted. It is most commonly seen on STOP and YIELD signs.
Black/White - These colors are used for most regulatory signs, which typically have a white background with black legend.
Yellow (or yellow-green) - Yellow is used for most warning signs. Yellow-green, which is much easier to see in poor conditions, is used for bicycle, pedestrian and school warning signs.
Orange - This color is used for temporary traffic control signs, usually to warn of construction.
Blue - This color is used for traveler information signs to help drivers find motorist services such as gas or service stations, rest areas, places to eat, phones, motels, and special areas accessible to the disabled.
Green - This color is used for guide signs that help drivers find the right exit as well as their destination. This color is also used to indicate permitted movements and to mark bicycle routes.
Brown - This color is used for recreational signs. These signs direct drivers to public recreation areas as well as locations of cultural or scenic interest.
Shapes of Signs
A sign's shape can also help you understand its meaning in an instant. These shapes always tell you the following, with a few exceptions:
Octagon (8 sides) - This shape is used exclusively for STOP signs.
Equilateral Triangle (each side has the same length) - This shape is used exclusively for YIELD signs. It always points down.
Horizontal Rectangle - This shape is used for guide signs, as well as some warning signs and temporary traffic control signs.
Vertical Rectangle - This shape is used for regulatory signs.
Pennant (triangle pointing right) - This shape is used exclusively for no-passing zone signs.
Diamond - This shape is used for warning signs.
Circle/Round - This shape is used exclusively to warn drivers of a railroad crossing ahead.
Crossbuck (X) - This shape is used exclusively for railroad crossing signs.
Pentagon (5 sides) - This shape, which is similar to a house, is used for school warning signs as well as some route marker signs.
Shield - This shape is used for route marker signs.
Trapezoid (4 sides, irregular lengths) - This shape is used for recreational area guide signs.
Other Shapes - Route marker signs may use other shapes that do not fit into any of the above categories. For example, signs marking Nevada state routes are shaped like Nevada.
Types of Signs
There are three general types of signs that you will encounter while driving in Nevada: regulatory, warning and guide.
Regulatory signs tell you of actions that you may or may not do. Many require you to immediately slow down your vehicle and have heightened awareness of upcoming obstructions. Others show prohibited actions, turning restrictions, lane use, speed limits or pedestrian and parking control. Most regulatory signs are white in color with black text or symbols, but a few use different colors such as red.
STOP signs are in the shape of an octagon and are red and white in color. The word "STOP" on the sign tells you to make a complete stop. Therefore when stopping at a STOP sign, you must stop completely at the appropriate spot and yield to opposing traffic, including pedestrians. The proper place to stop is before you reach the white stop line, or if you don't see this line, prior to the corner. Always check for pedestrians or unexpected traffic before proceeding forward. Wait and make sure it is safe to pull away from a STOP sign no matter how long you have to wait. An intersection (of any type) is the most dangerous place on the road, so always obey STOP signs to avoid cross-traffic collisions.
YIELD signs are in the shape of an equilateral triangle pointing down. The YIELD sign informs you that cross traffic has the right-of-way. To "yield" means to give up the right-of-way and let someone else proceed ahead of you. Therefore when you see a YIELD sign, you must slow down and allow traffic, bicycle riders or pedestrians to pass before proceeding. You must not forcibly merge your vehicle into traffic if a YIELD sign is present and other vehicles have the right-of-way.
DO NOT ENTER signs are in the shape of a square containing red circles with a white bar. They warn you that entering this roadway will bring you directly in conflict with oncoming traffic. It is often posted with a WRONG WAY sign. If you ignore these signs, you will be driving the wrong way.
ONE WAY signs are in the shape of a horizontal rectangle and have a white arrow on a black background pointing in the direction traffic can move in. They are used to mark one-way streets.
Railroad crossing signs are in the shape of a crossbuck (X) and are white and black in color. They warn you that you are about to cross railroad tracks where trains always must be given the right-of-way.
Prohibited Actions - Signs that have a red circle with a red line through it always tell you the action shown is prohibited. Below are a few examples:
NO Right Turns
NO Left Turns
Warning signs warn you of an upcoming hazard or change in road conditions that are not obvious or cannot be seen, requiring you to slow down and beware of extraordinary situations. Examples of hazards that these signs warn you to watch out for include sharp turns or curves in the road, pedestrian crossings, and intersections. Warning signs are typically yellow with black text and diamond-shaped, though there are some exceptions. Below are some common examples.
Slippery When Wet signs caution you that the road you are using is slippery when wet. When it rains or you can see water on the roadway, slow down to a safe speed.
Merge signs warn you that the lane you are in will be merging into another so that these two lanes become one, requiring you to adjust your speed and position if needed to keep traffic flowing smoothly. Merge signs call for extra courtesy to those who will be merging into your lane. This sign is in the shape of a diamond (as are most warning signs).
The following signs differ from the traditional yellow diamond-shaped warning signs because they use a different shape, color or both.
School Warning signs are shaped like a house and may be yellow or yellow-green. They warn you that you must slow down because you are approaching a school zone or school crossing.
Railroad Advance signs are yellow and circular. When you see a railroad advance sign, you should prepare to slow down because you are approaching a railroad crossing.
No Passing signs are shaped like a pennant. They warn you that you are entering a no-passing zone where you are not allowed to pass other vehicles.
Curve Warning signs are rectangular and have an arrowhead-shaped symbol. They warn you that you are entering a dangerous curve and need to slow down to the posted speed limit.
Construction signs are normally orange in color and warn you that you are entering a construction or maintenance area. When you see these signs, be prepared to slow down and watch out for workers and equipment.
Certain vehicles carry a triangular sign on the back that warns drivers who are following that they travel at very slow speeds. These signs are usually yellow-orange with red borders. If you are following a vehicle displaying this sign, you may want to change lanes or at least slow down considerably.
Guide signs come in several shapes and are usually blue, brown or green in color. They show route markers, destinations, directions, distances, services, points of interest, and other geographical, recreational, or cultural information.
Motorist Services signs are blue in color and alert you to service areas such as rest stops. They are quite helpful when you have to drive in remote and strange areas. The example on the left tells you that you can find a gas station at the next exit.
Recreational signs are brown in color and alert you to areas of public recreation and possible cultural interest.
Nevada State Route markers - Nevada state highways use route markers in the shape of Nevada. They are white and black in color.
U.S. Highway markers - The white and black shield tells you that you are traveling on a U.S. Highway. There is a system to how numbers are assigned, though you can find some exceptions. Generally, east-west routes use even numbers, while north-south routes use odd numbers. Lower numbered routes are primarily found in the north and east, while higher number routes are in the south and west.
Interstate Highway markers - The red, white, and blue shield tells you that you are traveling on an Interstate Highway. These routes follow a similar pattern used by the U.S. Highways, which are older; north-south routes use odd numbers while east-west routes use even numbers. However, higher numbered routes are primarily found in the north and east, while lower number routes are in the south and west. This is to keep Interstate and U.S. Highway routes in the same general area from using the same numbers. Routes with one or two digits and ending in "0" are major east-west highways such as I-80, while those ending in "5" are major north-south highways such as I-15.
Mileage markers, or mileposts, help you gauge how far you've driven, or need to drive, through the state. Nevada uses two different types of milepost markers: green and white Interstate mileposts, and the California-style mileposts, which are white and black in color. Each marker has an abbreviation on the top which indicates whether it is an Interstate route (IR), U.S. Highway (US), or a Nevada state highway (SR). Below the route number is a two-letter county abbreviation. The mileage numbers used for the white markers begin and end at each county line and may differ from the green markers.
Signs communicate important information to drivers on the road. Therefore you need to become familiar with these traffic controls. Please watch the following video on traffic signs.
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Traffic Control Lights
Control lights (also referred to as control signals, traffic lights, and traffic signals) are in place to alert motorists of actions on the road that may or may not be permissible. The following are some of the more common control lights and their meanings:
Steady Circular Lights
1. Red - A red light tells you that you must make a complete stop before the crosswalk or stop line. If there is no crosswalk or stop line, you must stop completely before you enter the intersection. You may make a right turn against a red light after you stop provided there is no sign prohibiting the turn and you yield to any pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles close enough to pose a hazard.
2. Yellow - A yellow light tells you to exercise caution because a red signal is about to appear. You may proceed through the intersection on a yellow light, but only if you cannot stop safely at that point and you do not enter the intersection when the light turns red. The yellow light does not tell you to speed up so you can clear the intersection. Before you decide whether or not to proceed through the intersection on a yellow, you must consider several factors. These include the density of traffic, the speed of your vehicle as well as other vehicles, road and weather conditions, and possibly others.
3. Green - A green light tells you that you may proceed if you can do it safely. Look left, right, and then left again to make sure the way ahead is clear for you before going ahead. If there are any vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians already in the intersection, wait for them to clear the road before advancing. Beware of careless drivers who try to beat a red light. Do not enter the intersection if you cannot get completely across before the light turns red. If you block the intersection, you will get a traffic citation.
Control Light Sequence
Every time you come to a control light anywhere in the United States, you can feel secure that they are the same as the ones in Nevada. These signals always appear in the same position (from top to down, red, yellow and green). The colors are always shown in a specific sequence: green, yellow, red, and then green again. The sequence should be the same no matter where you drive in this country.
1. Flashing Red - A flashing red light has the same meaning as a stop sign. You must first make a complete stop, and then you may proceed when the way is clear and you are given the right-of-way.
2. Flashing Yellow - A flashing yellow light tells you that you may go ahead, but with caution. Slow down and look both ways, stopping if necessary, before going through the intersection.
An arrow is used just like circular lights, except that it regulates turns going in the direction indicated.
1. Red Arrow - A red arrow is essentially a red light that tells you not to make a turn against the signal. You must wait until the light turns green or shows a green arrow before you proceed. This arrow only applies to drivers in the left or right turn lanes.
2. Green Arrow - A green arrow allows you to make a left or right turn, depending on where the arrow points. It also assumes you have unobstructed use of the highway. However, you must be aware of oncoming vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians. Never assume that you have the right-of-way just because you have a green arrow. When a green arrow points downward, it indicates that you are allowed to drive in that lane.
Some roads have signals that regulate the use of each lane in that road at different times during the day. These signals are positioned above the lanes. A green arrow pointing downward is an example of a lane control signal. Other signals include:
1. Red X - This signal indicates a lane where you cannot drive during certain hours.
2. Yellow X - This signal indicates that you should move out of the lane as soon as it is safe to do so.
3. Flashing Yellow X - This signal above a lane indicates that you may use the lane, with caution, to make a left turn only.
A pedestrian signal lets pedestrians know when they may cross the road. Pedestrian signals may have WALK and DON'T WALK or a red upraised right hand and white walking figure. The red hand (or DON'T WALK), if steady, tells them they may not cross the street. If it is flashing, it warns pedestrians that the signal is changing and they must wait. The white figure (or WALK) indicates that they may proceed. If you are a driver and see the white signal, you must yield to any pedestrians crossing the street in your path. Pedestrian signals normally work in conjunction with regular traffic signals (red, yellow and green).
Broken/Inoperative Traffic Lights
Sometimes you will come upon an intersection with signals that are not operating because of a blackout or other problem. You should treat this intersection like a four-way stop. This means you must stop completely at the stop line, the crosswalk, or the entrance to the intersection. Check for hazards and proceed only when it is safe and you have yielded when necessary.
The following video provides an overview of traffic signals. Please watch carefully so that you can familiarize yourself with important intersection safety concepts and required driving skills.
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Markings on the pavement are used to communicate traffic regulations by type of line or color. Always stay between the lines of your lane unless you are turning, exiting a road, or changing lanes.
A yellow center line shows traffic flowing in opposing directions. When traveling on roads with a yellow center line, you must drive to the right of this line on the right side of the road. However, there are some exceptions as explained below.
Broken Line - The single broken line is most frequently seen on a two-lane rural roadway. You may cross a broken yellow line to pass the vehicle ahead, if it is safe.
Solid Line Next to Broken Lines - Usually found on two-lane rural roadways, this set of lines determines who may pass on the left. A solid yellow line on your side of the road means you may not cross over to the left to pass. A broken yellow line on your side, however, permits you to pass, but only as long as it is safe to do so.
When there is a two-way left turn center lane, which has solid outside yellow lines and broken inside yellow lines on each side, you may cross the solid yellow line to use this lane. Remember that this lane has restricted uses. Again, drive in this lane only for left turns or U-turns where permitted, or when entering or exiting a driveway or private road.
Solid Double Lines - These lines separate traffic traveling in opposite directions. Do not cross double solid yellow lines except when making a left turn or a permitted U-turn after yielding to traffic. If you intend to make a U-turn, start from the lane furthest to the left on your side of the road.
High occupancy vehicle lanes may also use double solid yellow lines to separate them from regular freeway traffic. Do not cross these lines except at designated openings, even if the lane appears to be clear.
White lines indicate traffic flowing in the same direction. These lines are also used to mark the right edge of a road and crosswalks. Below are the most common types of white line markings.
Broken Line - A broken white line separates the lanes on a roadway that go in the same direction. You may cross this line when changing lanes or passing another vehicle, but only when it is safe to do so and after you have signaled.
Solid Line - A solid white line separates lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. It is also used to mark the right edge of a roadway. Do not cross this line except to avoid a hazard when you have no other option.
Double Solid Line - Double solid white lines separate two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction. You may never cross these lines.
Solid Lines with Arrows (Turn Lanes) - White lines with arrows indicate lanes designated as turning lanes. These lanes are sometimes separated from other lanes by a solid white line. When lanes are separated by solid white lines, you should not change into another lane. If you are traveling in a lane marked with an arrow and the word ONLY, you must make the turn as indicated. Be aware before reaching turning lanes.
Crosswalks - Crosswalks are found at intersections, though they are not always marked. Those that are marked use white lines (or yellow in school zones). You must yield to pedestrians that are in these zones or are preparing to cross.
You may only park at a green curb for a limited amount of time. The amount of time is usually displayed on the curb or on a nearby sign.
You are only allowed to stop at a white curb to pick up or drop off passengers or mail.
You are only allowed to stop at a yellow curb long enough to load or unload passengers or cargo.
You may never stop at a red curb.
You may only park at a blue curb if you have a specially assigned placard or license designating you as disabled.
No Parking Areas
Curb markings help you know whether you may park in a certain area. However, there are many more places where parking is not permitted. You will still have many places to park, but you must know where it is illegal. Always check for signs that prohibit or limit parking. In the following instances, it is illegal to park your vehicle except when necessary to avoid a crash or to obey the directions of a police officer or traffic control device:
- Where signs or curb markings prohibit parking.
- Within an intersection.
- On a crosswalk or sidewalk.
- Within 20 feet of a crosswalk.
- In front of a public or private driveway.
- Within 30 feet of a traffic control signal at the side of a highway.
- Within 15 feet of a fire hydrant where parallel parking is permitted, or 20 feet if angle parking is permitted.
- Within 50 feet of the nearest rail of a railroad.
- Within 20 feet of the driveway entrance to a fire station; if parking on the side opposite the entrance, within 75 feet of that entrance.
- Next to or opposite any highway construction zone when parking would block traffic.
- Next to a vehicle parked at a curb (double parking).
- On a bridge, overpass or other elevated structure.
- Within a highway tunnel.
- Within a bicycle lane.
- In a traffic lane blocking the flow of traffic.
- With your vehicle facing against traffic.
- On a freeway.
- In a parking space reserved for the disabled, unless you have a disabled placard, sticker or license issued in your name.
Certain parking spaces are reserved for use by the disabled. These spaces are marked with a blue symbol such as the one shown in the picture. You may use a disabled parking space only if your vehicle displays a valid and unexpired disabled person's permit (in the form of a placard) or license plates (which will contain a similar symbol) and:
- Your vehicle displays a disabled person's placard or license plates (which will contain a similar symbol).
- A physically disabled person is in the motor vehicle when it is parked.
- A physically disabled person is being dropped off or picked up.
When you apply to use a parking space for the disabled, you will receive a letter authorizing your placard, sticker or license plates. It will contain your name and address so only you will be allowed to use it. You must keep this document in the vehicle using the disabled license plate or with you if you have a placard or sticker. The disabled placard, license plate or sticker only authorizes you to park in a disabled parking space. You still must pay any parking fees.
It is illegal to use a disabled person's placard if he or she is not being transported in the vehicle. You may have to pay a minimum fine of $250 if convicted of using someone's placard, sticker or plates illegally. You can also be fined if you allow someone else to use your placard, sticker or plates illegally.