FAIL: Half of Americans Flunked Our Road Sign Test

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Pass or fail? We tested Americans on their road sign knowledge and found that roughly half couldn’t correctly identify the “No Passing Zone” sign. Other difficult signs were “Railroad Crossing” and “School Zone” signs. It has likely been a while since your drivers’ license exam, but our findings revealed that most Americans need a road sign refresher. 

We surveyed 1,000 Americans and found:

  • 49% failed to recognize the “No Passing Zone” sign. 
  • 41% couldn’t identify the “Railroad Crossing” sign. 
  • 25% misidentified the “School Zone” sign. 

Not knowing these road signs can cost you hundreds of dollars or more. Passing in a no passing zone, ignoring railroad crossing warnings, and speeding in a school zone can lead to expensive traffic citations and higher rates on your car insurance. 

For this survey, we removed the text and images from each road sign and provided multiple choice answers. Here’s how they fared:


Road sign knowledge was about the same across all age groups. However, slight declines can be seen in both the youngest (18–24) and oldest (65+) generations. This may be in part due to lower driving populations in each group. 

Half of Americans failed to recognize the “No Passing Zone” sign

This yellow pennant shape is reserved for “No Passing Zone” signs. However, with the text removed nearly half of Americans couldn’t identify it. Respondents mistook this sign for a school zone (27%), signal ahead (14%) and deer crossing (8%). 


 No passing zones are commonly found near hills or sharp turns where visibility is limited or in high-traffic areas where it may be unsafe to pass. In addition to the sign, lane demarcations also alert drivers when it’s safe to pass and when it isn’t. Passing in a no passing zone can result in a ticket, which in turn can raise insurance rates. 

How much will you pay for violating this rule?

  • Passing in a no passing zone: $200+

41% weren’t on the right track for the “Railroad Crossing” sign

Without its notable black ‘X’, many Americans mistook the “Railroad Crossing” sign for another roadside warning. However, yellow circular signs are reserved for railroad crossings. In other cases, white crossing signs, railroad arms, flashing lights, and lane marks may be used to warn drivers about an approaching railroad. Survey respondents incorrectly thought this sign signaled a roundabout (16%), school bus stop (13%), and pedestrian crossing (12%). 


Driving violations involving railroads can range from illegally stopping on the tracks to driving around lowered crossing arms. Both of these behaviors are dangerous and sometimes fatal. In 2018 alone, there were 2,217 collisions involving vehicles and trains which resulted in 262 deaths and 840 injuries. Many cities have recently doubled fines to heighten public awareness. 

How much will you pay for violating this sign?

  • Stopping on railroad tracks or ignoring warning signs: $200–$500+

25% need to study their “School Zone” signs

Many more Americans (75%) were able to correctly identify the “School Zone” sign but a few still need to hit the books. This yellow pentagon-shaped sign warns drivers to slow down and watch for children crossing the road. Special school zone speed limit signs may also be posted in addition to neon yellow signs and flashing lights. Those who missed the question selected work zone (13%), deer crossing (9%), and stop ahead (3%).


Speed limits and cell phone restrictions are strictly enforced in school zones due to the number of children and pedestrians present. That also means school zone violations can be more costly than other traffic tickets. 

How much will you pay for violating this sign?

  • Speeding in a school zone: $100–$350+
  • Using a cellphone in a school zone: $200+

All three of these road signs warn of potential hazards to protect yourself and others. Violating these rules of the road or receiving a ticket for other offenses could impact your insurance cost too. Study up on other important road signs by taking our interactive quiz to see how well you score. 


This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in November 2019.

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Taylor CovingtonContent Researcher

An in-house qualitative researcher for The Zebra, Taylor collects, organizes, and analyzes data to shine a light on trends in the insurance industry and beyond. Taylor's data studies have been cited by Yahoo Finance, The Atlantic, MSN, PolicyAdvice, Fox Business, The Simple Dollar, Hippo Insurance, and Bloomberg.

In her hometown of Austin, Texas, she can be found reading at Half Price Books or eating the world's greatest pizza at Via 313.