Ever scratched your head over a road sign that seemed a little … off? We’ve collected 7 of our favorites — from the inscrutable “SOFT SHOULDER” to the amusing “CRAB CROSSING” — and decoded them for you.

1. Soft shoulder

Don’t expect a warm, motherly shoulder to cry on. When it comes to road safety, the term “shoulder” refers to the area next to the traffic lane of a road or highway. Shoulders provide important space for maintenance activities, crash avoidance, bicyclists, traffic enforcement, or as a recovery area for drivers who need to leave the travel lane. A “SOFT SHOULDER” sign is used to warn motorists when the shoulder is an unpaved and potentially unstable surface — like dirt, sand, or gravel.

2. Crab crossing

From deer and elk to cattle and crabs, animal crossing signs are used to caution motorists and reduce animal-vehicle collisions in areas where wildlife crossing is frequent. According to the Federal Highway Administration, these collisions present serious consequences for animals and humans alike, including: wildlife mortality, vehicle damage, secondary vehicle accidents, and emotional trauma for motorists, to name a few. So slow down please — even for crabs.

3. No standing

Not to be confused with “NO LOITERING,” a “NO STANDING” sign is for motorists and typically indicates an area where you may temporarily stop your vehicle to drop off or pick up passengers, but may not stop for any other reason (like to wait a few minutes for someone to show up, or to answer a phone call, or to unload your soda truck). It’s worth checking your local jurisdiction for specific rules and regulations on this one, since getting it wrong can earn you a fine.

4. Reverse lane

Nope, it’s not National Backward Day yes, that’s a thing  it’s simply a reversible lane! For the uninitiated, a reverse lane indicates a lane in which traffic may travel in either direction, depending on certain conditions (day of the week or time of day, for example). Reversible lanes tend to be used at rush hour and on bridges or in tunnels to help ease heavy traffic flow in one direction.

5. Inherently low emission vehicles allowed

All Low Emission Vehicles (LEVs) are not created equal. An Inherently Low Emission Vehicle (ILEV) is typically a “pure, zero-emission” vehicle, like an all-battery electric car versus an electric/gas hybrid (which would be considered an LEV).

6. Runaway vehicles only

Don’t panic: the “RUNAWAY VEHICLES ONLY” sign is not a special lane for reckless drivers. Quite the opposite! This sign indicates the presence of an emergency escape ramp meant to safely slow down heavy vehicles (usually trucks) that experience problems braking on a highway downgrade.


7. Look

Take a deep breath. That “LOOK” sign isn’t mocking you, we promise. “LOOK” signs are generally used in places where drivers need to take extra caution — like at a railway crossing or at a juncture where cross traffic doesn’t stop.

Safe and smart | Car safety


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.