The Art of Driving: Lines, Shapes, and Colors Make Driving Easier

by Ella Pearson | Last Updated: January 11, 2021

Have you ever taken an art class in high school or college? Visual arts such as painting, drawing, and watercolor all depend on three critical concepts: line, shape, and color. Believe it or not, these three concepts are also critical to consider when driving. Paying attention to line markings, the shapes of road signs, and the typical use of color in road sign markings can help you better understand the rules of the road and ultimately help you to become a much safer driver.

Line Markings

The lines painted on the road offer quite a bit of information to you as a driver.

For instance, a single center line in the road indicates one-way traffic, and a double-striped center line in the road indicates two-way traffic. A continuous, unbroken line means that passing is not allowed, while a broken line (which looks like a series of dashes along the road) means that passing is allowed.

Note: In two-way traffic, if the line on your side of the road is a solid line, this means that passing other vehicles is not allowed for you, even if there is a broken line on the other side. On the contrary, a broken line–only when it’s on your side of the road–means that passing the cars in front of you is allowable as long as the road is clear. Be sure to check mirrors and ensure that you have even more room in front of you than you think is necessary before passing, and never pass on a curve or a hill when your view of oncoming traffic is limited or non-existent.

Thick, striped lines near an intersection often serve as a crosswalk. Always yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk!  

Shapes Mean a Lot

Most road signs employ specific shapes to communicate what you’re allowed to do and what the signs mean. Even without knowing how to read, it’s possible to understand driving instructions from the shapes of the signs on the side of the road.

For example, an octagon is always used to indicate when a full-stop is required; thus, it’s easy to spot stop signs from a safe braking distance as long as you recognize the shape of an octagon.

An upside down triangle is always used to indicate when to yield to oncoming traffic, and a sideways triangle indicates no passing zone.

There are many other types and shapes of road signs. The best way to learn them is to study the driver’s handbook you use to study for a licensing exam. Even if you took that exam years ago, brushing up on your road signs is an excellent idea. Make it a game. Test yourself after all this time to see if you could still pass the road sign examination. You may be surprised, and you may find that it makes driving safer and much easier!

The Color Code

The rainbow has a beautiful place in human history and imagination. According to the Bible, it is a sign of God’s mercy and presence. It’s also considered the trail to a leprechaun-guarded pot of gold, according to Irish legend. And, it made the art of Lisa Frank possible.

Though not as glamorous, most of the colors of the rainbow are also useful to you as a driver and can convey information immediately.

For example, the easiest and most common colors used to convey traffic instructions are the colors commonly associated with a stop light: red, yellow, and green.  Red means stop, and you’ll see plenty of red signs and lights around the road. Always come to a full stop when you see one of these signs and make sure the road around you is clear before you proceed.

Yellow means that you should use caution, slow down, and/or yield to oncoming traffic. Remember, full stops are not required by yellow signs unless there is another car or object in the road. Yielding to traffic sometimes does require a full stop!

Of course, green means go, and it’s used on mile markers along the highway.

However, these are not the only colors to have meaning. Orange is almost always used to indicate construction, brown indicates scenic locations and marks public parks and attractions, and blue serves to indicate motorist services or offer guidance. You’ll also notice that many official guidance signs for things like speed limits are black and white.

If you take your time to study or brush up on how lines, shapes, and colors are used to convey instructions and/or information to drivers, you’ll be a bit more comfortable when you head out on the road–and so will those around you!