Drivesmart column: Regulatory vs advisory road signs

The regulatory sign must be obeyed exactly as it is read.

By Tim Schewe

Drivers are often confused about the difference between a regulatory sign and an advisory sign. A regulatory sign generally has black characters or symbols on a white background and an advisory sign has black characters or symbols on a yellow background. So, what’s the difference?

The regulatory sign must be obeyed exactly as it is read. Examples of regulatory signs include speed limits, turn restrictions, parking restrictions and directional instructions. Failure to obey these signs is an offence and the driver may be charged if they choose not to follow the instruction.

If there is not a specific offence such as speeding or failing to stop for the regulatory sign, a traffic ticket for disobeying a traffic control device may be issued to the driver.

An advisory sign gives advance notice of conditions on or adjacent to a highway that are potentially hazardous to traffic. A driver may choose whether or not to follow the suggestion given by the sign. Ignoring the advice is not an offence in itself, but anything that happens because the signs are not given consideration may be an offence.

A common advisory sign is the large diamond shaped sign that shows a black arrow on a yellow background telling drivers of a curve ahead. Underneath it is a smaller square sign with black lettering on a yellow background showing a speed of 30 km/h.

The example of the curve was chosen to illustrate a point. We have often seen these signs and then travelled around the curve comfortably at speeds higher than that suggested. In those cases the shape of the curve and the road condition could accommodate the vehicle travelling at the higher speed.

So why was the speed warning there? Often it is because the driver’s line of sight is restricted. This would prevent the driver from seeing and reacting to a hazard in or just beyond the corner unless the speed was at or less than that suggested. Heavy trucks may also be required to slow for the corner to prevent tipping over.

A relatively new (since 2012) advisory sign is black on a pink background. These signs warn of an emergency incident ahead and tell drivers to expect responders on the roadway. Proceed with caution as full temporary traffic control may not yet have been established.

Failure to obey an advisory sign is only an offence if something happens as a result of ignoring the advice and the offence is generally for the misadventure that occurs.

Need a quick brush up on what road signs mean? Drop by your local Driver Service Center (where you renew your driver’s licence) and ask for a free copy of Learn to Drive Smart. The signs, signals and road markings are explained in Chapter 3.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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