Rules of the Road



Now I know I’ve made no bones about my love/hate relationship with the NH state police in my Popo Series. But please don’t misunderstand. I am not a scofflaw, nor do I mean to make light of the rules and regulations that govern our main streets, back roads and highways – and protect the drivers on them.

The forward of the State of New Hampshire’s Driver’s Manual opens with this statement: “Driving a motor vehicle on public streets and highways is a privilege.” I couldn’t agree more. And just to prove it, I’ve dedicated this section of my blog to a refresher on the rules of the road. Because if you’re like me, chances are it’s been a while since you’ve checked the driver’s manual, and you’re probably taking a lot for granted. So let’s start with some basics, shall we? Like the signs and signals on the highway and the special meaning behind their shapes and colors.

Standard colors

  • Red: Stop or do not do something
  • Green: Direction or guidance
  • Blue: Driver services
  • Yellow: General warning
  • White: A law or rule
  • Orange: Road repair work warning
  • Brown: Tourist and recreation guidance

Standard Shapes 

  • signs_shapes

    Octagon (8 sides): Stop

  • Down pointed triangle: Yield. Slow down and give vehicles crossing your path the right of way.
  • Pennant (sidewise triangle): No passing. This sign, found on the left side of the road, gives you warning of no passing zones ahead.
  • Diamond: Warning. Special hazards are ahead. Pictures or words will tell you what the hazard is.
  • Rectangle (box shaped): Regulations or guidance. Traffic regulations or directions to drivers.
  • Pentagon (shaped like a school house): School zone and school crossing
  • Circle: Advance warning of a railroad crossing
  • Crossbuck (X): Marks spot of railroad crossing



Stop Signs: You must come to a full stop (wheels must completely stop moving) at an intersection and proceed carefully after giving the right-of-way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from another road, or which is so close as to be a danger.

Yield Signs: You must slow down as you come up to the intersection and be ready to stop, if necessary, to yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and pedestrians. It means the same as a stop sign except you may go through without coming to a full stop if it is safe to do so.

Regulatory Signs: You must obey the rules on these signs.

Warning Signs: Special hazards are ahead, you should slow down.

Route Signs: Almost all major roads are numbered with route signs. Different shapes and colors are used to mark U.S. routes, interstate routes and state roads. To make traveling easier, interstate routes are numbered by code. Even numbers are east – west routes, odd numbers are north – south routes. Three numbered routes with an odd first number are routes into a city. Three numbered routes with an even first number go through or around a city.


traffic-light-treeTraffic lights control vehicles at major intersections.

Red: Stop before the stop line or crosswalk. Remain stopped until the light turns green and the intersection is clear.

EXCEPTION: You may make a right turn on a red signal only if: there is no sign prohibiting a right turn on red and (if the intersection is equipped) a steady DON’T WALK signal is being displayed. Then, you may make a right turn after yielding to pedestrians and other traffic in, or approaching, the intersection.

NOTE: It is a violation of the law to make a right turn on red when a steady or flashing walk signal is being displayed even if there are no pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Yellow: Caution. The lights are about to change to red. The purpose of the yellow light is to allow vehicles already in the intersection to clear the intersection safely. Do not try to “beat the light” if you have not already entered the intersection.

Green: Go when safe to do so. You must yield to pedestrians and vehicles in the intersection.

Red arrow: You cannot turn left on a red arrow. You can turn right on a red arrow after stopping if you follow the EXCEPTION rule under RED LIGHTS.

Green arrow: You may turn in the direction of the arrow after yielding to traffic and pedestrians.

Flashing red: You must come to a full stop and not go until it is safe to do so. This means the same as a stop sign.

Flashing yellow: Go with caution.


Highways are marked with white and/or yellow lines to help drivers. Each type of line has a special meaning.


Single, broken (dotted) lines: Marks traffic lanes. White lines mean these lanes of traffic are moving in the same direction. Yellow lines mean the lanes of traffic are moving in opposite directions. You may pass over any broken (dotted) lines when it is safe to do so.

Single solid white lines: You must not change lanes or pass.

Double white or yellow lines: You must not pass if the line on your side is solid. If the line on your side is broken (dotted), you may pass when safe to do so.

Edge markings: The single line that marks the edge of the road. The line is white on two-way roads and on the right edges of one-way roads. The line is yellow on the left edges of one-way roads.

Arrows: White arrows are painted on some highway lanes to help guide drivers into the proper lanes for turns and through traffic.

Stop lines: White stop lines are painted across pavement lanes at intersections to show drivers where to stop at traffic signals or signs. At intersections where there are no stop lines, vehicles must stop before the crosswalk.

Crosswalks: Crosswalk lines are painted across a road to show pedestrian crossing areas. Drivers are required to yield to pedestrians crossing the road in marked crosswalks or at intersections even if no crosswalk lines exist at the intersection.




Right-of-way rules help the smooth movement of traffic at an intersection. The law does not really give anyone the “right-of-way.” It only says who must yield it. Drivers must do everything possible to avoid a crash even if they have the right of way. Generally, at an intersection with no traffic sign or signal, the vehicle on your right should go first, but there are several exceptions to this rule. They are:

  • A vehicle already in the intersection has the right-of-way over a vehicle preparing to enter.
  • A vehicle going straight ahead has the right-of-way over a vehicle turning left.
  • The right-of-way must be given to emergency vehicles approaching from any direction when they are sounding a siren or operating their flashing lights (police, fire, ambulance). You must immediately drive to the right side of the road clear of any intersection and stop your vehicle until the emergency vehicle has passed.
  • Pedestrians in crosswalks and at intersections have the right-of-way over all vehicles.
  • Vehicles about to enter or cross a road from a driveway or private road must yield the right-of-way to all traffic on the main road.
  • Yield the right-of-way to blind persons. They are usually led by a guide dog or carrying a white cane (with a red bottom tip) which is used to guide them while walking.
  • At a 4-way stop, all others must yield to the vehicle which arrives and stops at the intersection first.
  • Yield to funeral processions, and let the cars with headlights on pass as a group.


  • Always look both ways as you come up to a railroad crossing.
  • Be sure to look, even if the warning lights are not flashing.
  • At railroad crossings with stop signs or lights or other stop devices, a driver must stop not less than 15 feet, nor more than 50 feet, from the nearest rail of the track. Drivers should not proceed across the tracks until the lights stop flashing or trains have passed.
  • If you are stopped at a railroad crossing where there is more than one track, do not start across the tracks as soon as the train passes. Wait until you have a clear view well down the track in both directions before you start across. Another train could be coming from another direction.
  • Do not shift gears while crossing railroad tracks, as you might stall your vehicle on the tracks.
  • The law requires buses that carry passengers and trucks carrying flammable or dangerous material to stop before crossing railroad tracks even if there is no sign of a train coming. Be ready to stop when driving behind these vehicles.
  • Certain railroad crossings are designated as “exempt” and are plainly marked as exempt crossings at these locations.


A school bus is a vehicle that can be identified by large “School Bus” signs on the front and back of the vehicle, or a yellow bus marked with the words “School Bus” in black letters. Whenever you approach a school bus from any direction, which has stopped to pick up or let off passengers while operating its flashing red lights, you must stop your vehicle at least 25 feet from the school bus. The only time you do not have to stop is when you are on the other side of a divided highway.


You must stay stopped until the bus has started again or the bus driver stops operating the flashing red lights.

You may meet a school bus traveling with flashing yellow lights. This means that the school bus is about to stop and operate its red lights, so you should slow and be ready to stop.

Always use great care when approaching a stopped or slow-moving school bus. The bus is a warning that children are in the area and may suddenly run into the road.


  • Do not let passengers sit on the hood, roof or trunk of a moving vehicle, and be extra cautious if it becomes necessary to let anyone ride in the body or bed of a pickup or stake body truck.
  • No passenger type vehicle can carry a load which extends over the sides of the vehicle beyond the line of the fenders on the left side, or extends more than 6 inches beyond the line of the fenders on the right side of the vehicle.
  • You must not drive a vehicle when there are more than 3 persons in the front seat so as to obstruct your view to the front or sides or to interfere with your use of the controls.
  • No person may ride in any house trailer or utility trailer while it is being moved on any highway.
  • Carrying dogs in pickup trucks is allowed. However, the dog must be protected in a manner which will prevent the dog from being thrown or from falling or jumping from the vehicle.

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