Any American who has driven overseas, or any visitor to the US can tell you that road signs look remarkably different here. The video below explains why, largely a combination of historical and nationalistic reasons, with a flavor of the US’s refusal to adopt the metric system because it’s not what we’re used to thrown in as well. The Scholarly Kitchen has long been a stalwart supporter of standards, and I suspect this discrepancy is maddening to several of my colleagues who work in this area. Also of interest from a design perspective is that the US did try to move more toward a symbol-based set of road signs, only to find that they confused many drivers and so the US went back to text-based signage.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


4 Thoughts on "Standards for Road Signs and Why Signs in the US Are So Different from the Rest of the World"

As an Englishman, long resident in the US, I would also note that America is a very wordy culture. In general (a tendency, not a rule) Americans like to use a lot of words, they like to explain themselves (whether their interlocutor is interested or not.) I put this down to America being a largely immigrant society. Immigrants from different societies with different languages could not assume a common understanding, they had to use their words. In more historically homogeneous countries like England or Japan people just silently judge you.

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