Why are words painted on the road reversed? (To me)

Every time I see words painted on the road, like “Stop Ahead” or “Right Turn Only”, they appear backwards to me.





<my car>
Whenever I see this, I read it “ONLY…TURN…RIGHT” or “AHEAD…STOP.”

Why do they do it this way? Do they expect people to read it properly? If so, is there some reason why I don’t read it the way I’m supposed to?

So you can read the words as you approach the intersection, one at a time. Think of it like a BurmaShave sign, only slightly less humorous. I’ve never had a problem understanding them, but I could see how someone would.

They, for some insane reason, think that you can only see the word closest to you, and that you’ll read each one, in order, as you come to it. This always drives (pardon) me batty.

I can see all of the words at once! I’m not blind! That’s why you let me drive the car!

As far as I can remember (it’s a while since I drove there), the words are the right way round in the UK. In Australia and NZ, however, they are the wrong way, as you describe. It took me a bit of getting used to… “BRIDGE LANE ONE? Eh? …Hey, why is there a truck heading right for me?”

I guess one possible reason is that if you are in heavy traffic, you’ll only see one word at a time between the vehicles ahead.

Thought maybe you were having a different kind of problem. :smiley:

It bugs me too, but I can see r_k’s point about heavy traffic.

No, but you may be stupid (no offense) or not a native speaker of English. Which is the better option: put it out there so that smart people get it right and let the stupid people do as they may or put it out there so that stupid people can understand it, knowing that smart people will be able to work it out?

This is the same reason they make the really important road signs (stop, yield, and one way) completely visually different from any other, so that even illiterate people can understand them.




I’m not sure I follow - are you saying that stupid people need to read the words backwards or they won’t understand the meaning? Why would that be? I’m not being deliberately obtuse - I just don’t understand why printing them this way would mean the words were easier to understand for someone stupid.

He’s saying that stupid people will read them as they come to them, as opposed to top-to-bottom.

Yes, that is exactly what I was saying: simple people read things the simplest possible way. And please let me say again, I was not trying to say that toadspittle is (or might be) stupid. I was speaking of the hypothetical “you,” and I should have said “one.”

They really read things that way? OK then. That’s good enough for me.

(I was going to speculate about people too stupid to read the words properly, but not so stupid that they can’t get their drivers’ license, but this commuter knows better than to think they don’t exist).

Real world example from just yesterday:

There are several signs near the entrance to the computer lab at my branch library. We feel that they (mostly) communicate important things. One is a reminder to turn your cell phone off, another tells people to go to the information desk when there is no staff person on duty in the lab. This latter one we place right next to the computer where we sign people in, such that it is directly in front of you when you walk in the door. On top of this, it has a big-ass STOP sign on it, normally an attention grabber. Did I mention that it is right next to the computer where people sign in?

Yesterday, a patron comes in to use the Internet when there is no one on duty in the lab. He waits and waits and waits. I happen by coincidence to notice him standing there and go over, asking if he needs to be signed in. He says he does. I point out the sign and say, “Anytime the sign is turned around like this, just come on over to the desk.”

“Oh,” he says. “I didn’t see that.”

“Even with the big STOP sign on it?”

“No,” he explains, with a gesture to the two or three other signs. “I was reading these signs left-to-right.”

I can’t make up stuff like this, y’all.

For what it’s worth, there have actually been studies performed on which way around the words should be, and I’ve seen one.

When I took an design of experiments class, the prof had us dig up dissertations and come up with one example of a good ANOVA study by somebody and a bad one, and present them for discussion.

I went digging through the psych department, and found my good study on exactly this topic. The person running it did a good job of setting up their experiments on a local highway. They got permission to block it off, and measured comprehension times of drivers approaching instructions displayed in various ways. Their results clearly showed that when painting words on the actual roadway, painting them with the first word closer to you as you approached the message was more easily comprehended. I find it counterintuitive also, but the experimental results were pretty clear.

I think something else to consider is what type of car you’re driving. If you’re in an auto that is high up, then you’re more likely to see all the words at once. If you’re in a car where your vision is lower to the ground, then you probably can only see them one at a time. That’s also why the letters on these are usually painted very tall.

I like the idea too that because of traffic, you might not be able to see all words at once.

Anyone ever seen that puzzle where it looks like a bunch of vertical lines drawn on a paper, and to read it you have to hold it horizontally at almost eye level?


I’m not familiar with this from driving in the UK, any messages are just written as normal left to right in one line - as in




Mostly these type of messages are on signposts anyway. Can’t think of many multi word messages for drivers which are printed on the road to be honest.