Chaos vs. Consistency: Reasons Behind BC’s Sign Rules


What if anyone could put up any sign they wanted? Well, there are rules for a reason…

Picture this… Everyone in B.C. could have full artistic freedom for creating and posting signs. For example, to indicate that a hairpin curve is coming up – maybe choose a pink background and draw a picture of hair with a pin in it that indicates the way the road curves? Roman numerals could be used for variety on speed signs. Heart-shaped signs might add a warm and fuzzy touch to the geometric squares, diamonds and octagons commonly seen on B.C.’s highways.

While this imaginative expression might sound dizzily enticing to some, in reality it would be creative chaos. If for a moment, you think that the “artistic anarchist approach” to road signage is the way to go, take a look at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s 244-page Manual of Standard Traffic Signs & Pavement Markings. This document is packed with loads of logic that aligns with Canadian and international signage wisdom and standards. It guides the ministry in all we do with signage, to help you reach your destination safely. Here’s the big principle:

“Motorists have a right to expect that any given traffic sign will always have the same meaning and will require the same response, regardless of where the sign is encountered. Standardization of design and application aids recognition and understanding of signs and is important in obtaining motorist compliance and cooperation.”

If this doesn’t convince you that an ordered approach is in order, our manual further cautions that, “Traffic signs are most likely to be ignored if insufficient thought and attention has been given to their application.”

We believe that to be effective, a sign must:

  • Fulfill a need.
  • Command attention and respect.
  • Convey a well-thought out, clear and simple message.
  • Allow adequate time for a proper response.
B.C. sign standards are detailed for safety.

Following these principles, our signs are a uniform design and standard colours, and used and posted consistently. We want drivers to focus on the road ahead, and be able to understand every sign, at a glance. We want to avoid confusion from contradictory or misleading information, or odd placement or use of signs. We know that too many signs can distract drivers and reduce each sign’s effectiveness. We even have a term, “sign fatigue,” to express how when people see too many signs they stop paying attention to them. In this case, more (signs) can mean less (usefulness and safety).

So, while personal flair is wonderful for detailing a vehicle, decorating your home or dressing yourself, we urge you to leave road signage to us. If you have any questions about putting up safety or commercial signs, please direct them to the nearest Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure office in your region.

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Page 1 of 3 comments on “Chaos vs. Consistency: Reasons Behind BC’s Sign Rules”

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  1. Why are some traffic lights different sizes? E.g. some cities have big red lights and smaller green and yellow lights.

    Also, does the MoT sign guide have to be followed on private property?

    • Hi Sukh,
      Thanks for the question.
      Traffic signal heads come in two sizes 12 inch (300 mm) sizes, and 8 inch (200 mm) sizes. Red has historically always been the 12 inch (300 mm) size as the need to come to a stop is considered the most critical information delivered to drivers. Green and Yellow were always of the 8 inch (200 mm) size.

      When the Ministry moved to LED signal heads in the early 2000’s that is when we moved to the 12 (300mm) all the way round for all lights. More recently, we have moved to 12 inch (300mm) heads on our signal advance warning flashers. The cost of conversion can be high, as such the conversion, especially for communities will be done over several years.

      Therefore, where the reader sees the combination of 12 inch (300mm) lights with 8 inch (200 mm) lights is generally in cities who have not converted everything to 300 mm heads. In some cases, depending on the structure to support the signal heads, the larger heads great a larger sail (wind) so updating is a major cost issue.

      The BC MVA and BC MVA-Regulations relate to public roads where any members of the public can operate. Therefore, if private lands and property do not do not accept access by members of the public, the need for signage is not required, as the due care owned members of the public would not apply.

      Hope that answers your question.