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8 Confusing Road Signs That Even Driving School Instructors Get Wrong

Updated: Dec. 02, 2022

While we'd all like to believe we understand every road sign we see, there's likely been occasions where we are just plain confused at what's in front of us.

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Traffic sign in Manhattan with a confusing number of directional arrows.
Maria T Hoffman/Shutterstock

Road signs are generally intended to inform drivers and alleviate confusion. But, every once in awhile, we come across a sign that is way more complicated than necessary, so much so that even our finest scholars on the subject—driving instructors—don’t understand it. If not them, then who?! These signs could definitely use a revision, but until that happens, we got the lowdown on how you’re supposed to handle them from driving instructors themselves. If your uncertainty transcends road signs alone, maybe it’s a good idea to read up on the 9 most confusing driving rules out there.

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Left Turn Yield On Green Sign attached to a traffic light pole made in white black and green color
Solomon Kraner/Shutterstock

Left Turn Yield on Green 

Surprisingly, green does not always mean go. According to John Svensson, former president of the Driving School Association of the Americas, “A solid green does not mean go. It means you may proceed only if safe to do so.” You might see this sign at a busy intersection, especially one with multiple lanes of traffic between you and your left turn, where even if you have a green light, you cannot enter the intersection until those lanes are clear. “The most fundamental misconception is that laws give the right of way to one driver over another,” Svensson says. “It is incumbent on every driver to make certain that driver required to give up the right of way is indeed doing so and proceed only when safe.” So, just because the other person isn’t supposed to be going doesn’t mean you are—brush up on these other subtle driving mistakes you didn’t know you were making.

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soft shoulder
Chris Perry/Solent News/Shutterstock

Soft Shoulder

This sign is actually one of three different signs that indicate an atypical circumstance about the road’s shoulder: either no shoulder, low shoulder, or soft shoulder. In this case, soft shoulder means the terrain is a bit more malleable than usual, which can sometimes happen at the end of winter or just after construction, and is potentially precarious if your vehicle isn’t suited for those conditions.

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Narrow bridge sign on country road
Paul Orr/Shutterstock

Narrow Bridge

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) states that this sign is a warning that you’re approaching a bridge with less width than the road preceding it, and you’ll just want to make sure you can still clear it, especially if you’re operating a larger vehicle. Know these safe driving tips for scary driving situations.

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Flagger Ahead

This sig means that a lane of traffic had to be shut down, likely due to construction, and a flagger is controlling when cars can go through with a STOP and SLOW paddle. Another important question—could you still correctly answer the questions on this driving test?

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Ingerently low emission vehicles allowed

Inherently Low Emission Vehicles Allowed

This very no-nonsense sign is confusing because it is a lot of large words to read in a brief amount of time that you can safely look at it. Hopefully, this will help you recognize and speed-read this sign on sight. Per the MUTCD, it means Inherently Low Emission Vehicles (ILEVs), regardless of the number of occupants, are allowed to use the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. The HOV lane is reserved for vehicles with multiple passengers, like buses, vans, and carpools, on highways with heavy traffic, intended to encourage more efficient forms of mass transportation. ILEVs have no fuel vapor emissions, so they’re allowed to zip through traffic in the HOV lane as a reward for reducing vehicle-generated air pollution, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. So, take your little Prius and get on with your bad self! Don’t have an ILEV? Then you still have to stick to the rules of the HOV lane.

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No Hitchhikers road sign
Hank Shiffman/Shutterstock

No Hitchhiking

Thumb wrestling must be taken elsewhere. Absolutely no fun is to be had under any circumstance.  Just kidding! This sign simply means that there is no hitchhiking allowed in the area, and if you need a ride, you’ll have to continue down the road to a pro-hitchhiking zone.

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object marker road sign street

Object Marker

There are no words or hieroglyphs to instruct you here and with its neon yellow stripes, this sign just sort of…wants your attention? Sometimes the diagonals slope to the left, sometimes to the right, alternating at whimsy, apparently. This is arguably the most confusing sign of the bunch because that assertion is exactly correct, this sign does just want your attention. As the MUTCD will tell you, this sign is just an object marker, and the diagonals are sloped towards whichever direction traffic is supposed to skirt around. Use your words, object marker! You might want to read up on this refresher on driving etiquette rules you might have forgotten since driver’s ed as well.

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An orange diamond sign with a figure of a person at work warns of potential danger
Anne Webber/Shutterstock

Workers Ahead

This sign is just to say that there are construction workers ahead, and you should approach with caution so everyone stays safe. They might not necessarily be shoveling, so it is a bit fictitious in that regard. Use your imagination. Now, find out the craziest things people have done while driving.