I live in Mexico, but I’m born and raised in the Netherlands. Because of that, I’m used to the European sign and icon system. As I found out, that can cause problems when I’m driving here.

Consider the following Mexican sign:


This signifies you’re not allowed to turn left, indicated by the red stripe through the icon. Makes complete sense, right? Yes it does, until you realize that the sign for ‘allowed to turn’ is the exact same sign, minus the red stripe.

Why is this a problem? Because in Europe, any symbol with a red circle – without a red stripe – around it means “you’re not allowed to do this”. In Mexico (and the US too, for that matter), it means the opposite: “you are allowed to do [x]”. With other words: a Mexican driving in Holland will turn left a places he’s absolutely not allowed to!


What does this teach us? That the interpretation of icons and signage can be a meaning of life and death – very literally I might add. It’s funny that the icon for a bicycle or a person is a universal one, widely known and accepted, but the way we use those symbols for improving our safety, is not.

(But hey: I could write the same article about the many accidents that have happened because of the fact that the US is the only nation that uses the imperial system rather than the good old metric one, and the construction miscommunications that were a result thereof.)