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Most of the signs you see on New Zealand roads are international symbolic signs. This means they use the same shapes and symbols as traffic signs all over the world.

Symbolic signs are used because they are quick to read and easy for all drivers to understand.

New Zealand’s signs are generally made of reflective material, making them easier to read at night.

The three types of signs

The signs on our roads can be divided into three types:

  1. compulsory signs
  2. warning signs
  3. information signs.

You must be able to recognise and understand each type of sign.

Some examples of these signs, particularly related to heavy vehicles, are shown on below.

Note: the examples shown are only a small sample of the symbolic signs used on New Zealand’s roads. They are intended to familiarise you with the three main types of symbolic sign rather than introduce you to all of the signs you will see when driving.

Compulsory signs

Compulsory signs tell you what you must or must not do.

They are usually red or blue.

Regulatory traffic sign with turn right arrow on a circular blue background

Turn right

Regulatory traffic sign with turn an arrow pointing up on a circular blue background

Keep going straight ahead

Regulatory traffic sign with keep left arrow on a circular blue background

Keep left

Regulatory traffic sign says five minute maximum goods vehicles only on blue background

Five minute loading zone sign for goods vehicles

Regulatory traffic sign with a letter P and a bus icon below on a blue background

Parking for buses only, no time limit

Regulatory traffic sign with the text no entry on a circular red background

You must not drive into this road

 

Important

Road authorities (for example, local councils) may have special rules for road users in specific areas. These restrictions should be indicated by signs or markings.

 Some compulsory signs have red borders.

Regulatory traffic sign with a red strike on a left turn arrow and it has a circular red border

You must not turn left

Regulatory traffic sign with a red strike on a curving U arrow and it has a circular red border

You must not make a U-turn

Regulatory traffic sign says stop on a red hexagon

You must stop and then give way

Regulatory traffic sign with a red strike on a truck icon and it has a circular red border

Heavy vehicles prohibited (not allowed) on a section of road

Regulatory traffic sign says class C and it has a circular red border

This is the road classification sign for a Class C road. Heavy vehicles can drive on this road only to deliver or collect goods or passengers along the road

Regulatory traffic sign says 4.6 m and it has a circular red border

The red bordered compulsory sign tells you that you have a clearance under these cables of 4.6 metres

Note: this sign can apply to all vehicles, not just heavy vehicles

Regulatory traffic sign says Keep left unless passing and it has a rectangular red border

You must keep left unless passing

Regulatory traffic sign has a bus icon on top and the word lane underneath. The sign has a square red border

Bus lane that can also be used by cycles, motorcycles, mopeds

Regulatory traffic sign says heavy vehicles max length 9.2 m and it has a rectangular red border

Maximum length for a heavy vehicle is 9.2 metres

Regulatory traffic sign has a bus icon on top and the word only underneath. The sign has a square red border

Bus lane that can only be used by buses

Regulatory traffic sign with four lines of text and it has a red border around the sign. The top line says transit lane. The middle line has a T2 icon and a car icon next to each other. The third line in smaller print says 6am-10am. The fourth line also has Mon-Fri in smaller print.

Transit lane, which can only be used by passenger service vehicles, cycles, motorcycles, mopeds and vehicles carrying at least the number of people displayed on the sign (eg T2 means two or more people, T3 means three or more people)

Regulatory traffic sign which says heavy vehicle bridge limits. The next line says axles 4300 kg. Next line says gross 50% of class 1. The last line says speed 15 km/h. The sign has a red square border.

Heavy vehicle bridge limits (eg maximum axle and gross vehicle weights and maximum speed limit apply)

Warning signs

Warning signs alert you to a particular hazard on the road ahead. They warn you to be careful for your own safety, the safety of other road users or the safety of road workers carrying out maintenance.

There are two types of warning signs:

  1. those that warn you of a permanent hazard
  2. those that warn you of a temporary hazard.

Both types of sign are usually diamond shaped.

Permanent warning signs

Permanent warning signs are yellow and black.

Permanent warning traffic sign showing two lines like an eleven but the first line is wider at the bottom part then straightening up to align with the second line to imply road is narrowing. The sign has a yellow background

Road narrows

Permanent warning traffic sign says trucks use low gear and the text is on a yellow background

This warning sign advises trucks to use a low gear to keep the vehicle under control (when going downhill).

Multiple hazards and descending steep hills(external link)

Permanent warning traffic sign showing a truck icon tilted on a road and it says 65 with the area curving to the left implying that a heavy loaded truck may tip over if speed is over 65 km. The sign has a yellow background.

This warning sign lets you know that if you are driving a heavy (or high-sided) vehicle, it could tip over as you drive around a curve. You need to keep your speed to 65km/h or less to be safe.

Stability on the road

Permanent warning traffic sign showing an electrical cable with a lighting flash icon and is on a yellow background.

The yellow warning sign lets you know there are electric cables overhead

Two permanent warning signs combined on one post, the top one showing a narrow bridge icon and the other says caution wide vehicles. Both signs have a yellow background

Two permanent warning signs combined – narrow bridge with warning for wide vehicles

Temporary warning signs

Temporary warning signs are orange and black.

Temporary warning traffic sign has a human figure holding a spade doing some digging, The sign has an orange background.Roadworks
Temporary warning traffic sign has two arrows where left arrow implies the lane is closing and need to merge with the right lane which is indicated by the straight arrow on the right. The sign is partially covered in orange colour.Left lane closed
Temporary warning traffic sign has an icon that looks like rocks falling out of the mountain or side road and the sign has an orange backgroundSlips
 
Temporary warning traffic sign has an icon where two cars are seemly passing at opposite directions and gravel stones are loosened and hitting at the other car while passing. The sign has an orange backgroundGravel surface
Temporary warning traffic sign has a human figure holding a flagStop on request
Temporary warning traffic sign has an exclamation mark icon on an orange background
Note: this sign will always be displayed with another sign explaining the hazard, eg ‘Flooding’
 

Important

Between 2006 and 2012, 569 trucks rolled over.

Information signs

Information signs give you useful information, for example, the distance to the next town. They are all rectangular, but come in a range of different colours and sizes.

White information sign saying turn left at any time with careYou may turn left, but first give way to any pedestrians and vehicles
Green information highway sign with a red state highway 2 symbol and it says Murchison 11 and Nelson 139 indicating distance in kilometres to these placesShows the state highway number and the distance in kilometres to places listed
Green information highway sign showing directions to airport using a roundabout symbol. To the left of the roundabout is Hornby or Timaru with a red state highway 1 symbol. To the right is Belfast or Picton with a red state highway 1 symbol.Shows directions to places at the next intersection
Blue directional sign pointing right has a small letter i indication the information centre is on the rightShows the way to the nearest information centre
Green directional sign pointing right has Kaikoura and Christchurch with a red state highway 2 symbolShows the state highway number and direction to places listed
White information sign saying heavy vehicle by pass with an arrow point rightThis information sign, usually seen in urban areas, indicates a town/city centre by pass
White information sign saying heavy vehicles please no engine brakes next 4kmThis information sign is also found in urban areas and asks you to minimise noise by not using engine brakes
Temporary orange information sign says site access 100 m and it includes a line with a notch on the left indicating turn off up aheadTemporary information sign – roadworks or construction site access 100 metres ahead