The Definitive Guide to Traffic Signs in Spanish
If you’re planning to do a little road trip through Latin America, it’s wise to learn some of the most common traffic signs in Spanish.
Some would say that traffic signs are universal, as most of them are understood without the need of words or translations. However, today you’ll learn that there’s more to traffic signs than what is apparent at a distance.
Keep reading to discover who invented traffic signs and how they have evolved throughout the years, why it’s important that you study traffic signs in Spanish, and what different types of traffic signs exist.
Finally, I introduce you to some of the most used traffic signs in Spanish, including images, and their equivalent names in English.
Why You Should Learn About Traffic Signs in Spanish
It’s important that you study traffic signs in Spanish for two reasons mainly:
- If you travel to a Spanish-speaking country, you may need to know what all these traffic signs mean. You’ll see in a moment that not all traffic signs mean the same in every country or language.
- Learning a language implies covering as much vocabulary as possible from different areas of life. That’s why here at HSA we’ve been publishing ultimate vocabulary guides about topics as diverse as math, golf, or accounting, to name just a few.
See our Spanish Vocabulary Archives for all the topics we offer!
A Brief History of Traffic Signs
Apparently, traffic signs had a longer history than I would have expected. As with many other essential elements of our current civilization, Romans were the first ones to create traffic signs. They built spectacular roads (some of which are still in use) and traffic signs were needed to organize them properly, as everything else in Roman life.
After the Romans, the evolution of traffic signs lulled until the late 19th century when the popularization of bicycles and improvement of roads called for updated traffic signs. By the start of the 20th century, and the invention of the car, it became clear that society needed more variety of traffic signs than those previously invented by the Romans.
That’s why in 1935 the United States published the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” (MUTCD), the first ever standardized system of traffic signs. The MUTCD is now followed in all of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand.
In 1968, the European nations signed a treaty to standardize their own system of traffic signs during the Convention of Vienna. This treaty has been adopted by 52 nations from Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Traffic Signs in Spanish
The following is a selection of some of the most important traffic signs in Spanish, as used in the Western hemisphere following the MUTCD standards.
This type of sign includes a white background, red circle (except for the “Stop” and “Yield” signs), and black letters, numbers, and symbols.
Here is a list of some of the main restrictive traffic signs in Spanish so you can get an idea of the consistent design. After the first five images, I provide only the name of the sign and its translation.
Alto – Stop
Ceda el paso – Yield
Límite de velocidad – Speed limit
No estacionar – No parking
Sólo vuelta derecha – Right turn only
|Sólo vuelta izquierda
|Left turn only
|Mandatory direction of traffic
|Mantenga su derecha
|Vuelta a la derecha prohibida
|Right turn prohibited
|Vuelta a la izquierda prohibida
|Left turn prohibited
|Vuelta en “U” prohibida
|Pedal cycles prohibited
|Prohibido vehículos pesados
|Heavy vehicles prohibited
|Use of audible signals prohibited
|Vehículos motorizados prohibidos
|Motor vehicles prohibited
|Prohibido seguir de frente
|Straight ahead prohibited
|Agricultural vehicles prohibited
|Vehículos pesados mantener su derecha
|Heavy vehicles keep to the right lane
|Prohibidos bicicletas, vehículos pesados y motocicletas
|Pedal cycles, heavy vehicles and motorcycles prohibited
As their name suggests, preventive signs inform drivers to be careful and prepared for what’s ahead in the road. They come in a yellow background and black symbols.
Peatones – Pedestrians
Glorieta – Traffic circle ahead
Pendiente peligrosa – Steep hill ahead
Topes – Bumpy road
Despeñamiento – Falling rocks
|Camino sinuoso (izquierda)
|Winding road (L)
|Camino sinuoso (derecha)
|Winding road (R)
|Cruce de caminos
|Incorporación de tránsito
|Cruce de ferrocarril
|Traffic light ahead
|Termina camino dividido
|Divided road ends
|Unión en “Y”
|Loose road surface
Touristic and Services
These signs inform drivers about touristic spots or services along the road. They come with a blue background and white symbol (except for the “Hospital” sign).
Aeropuerto – Airport
Estacionamiento – Parking zone
Parada de autobús – Bus stop
Estación de ferrocarril – Train station
Hospital – Hospital
Finally, I have to include the following two signs as they’re pretty common but don’t fit in any of the other categories. The first one is an example of direction signs that inform drivers about nearby towns and cities. The second one is a classic of traffic signs in Spanish due to its unique design in “X.”
Señalización de destino – Highway sign
Cruce de ferrocarril – Crossbuck
Drive Your Way in Spanish!
That’s right, now you’re ready to drive your way through Latin America. Make sure to practice these traffic signs in Spanish in real-life conversations, so when you visit a Spanish-speaking country you’ll be ready to roll!
Sign up for a free class with one of our certified, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala, and start talking about traffic signs in Spanish today!
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