Highway shield

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The shields for Interstate highways (left) and U.S. routes (right) can be seen on this set of reassurance markers in Southwest Virginia indicating two sets of wrong-way concurrencies

A highway shield or route marker is a sign denoting the route number of a highway, usually in the form of a symbolic shape with the route number enclosed. As the focus of the sign, the route number is usually the sign's largest element, with other items on the sign rendered in smaller sizes or contrasting colors. Highway shields are used by travellers, commuters, and all levels of government for identifying, navigating, and organising routes within a county, state, province, or country. Simplified highway shields often appear on maps.


There are several distinct uses for the highway shield:

  • Junction signs inform travelers that they are approaching an intersection with a numbered highway.
  • Guide signs inform travelers which way to go at intersections, usually with an arrow pointing the way. These include:
    • Directional assemblies, which combine highway shields with separate cardinal direction signs and arrow signs on the same post, and
    • Direction, position, or indication signs, which include highway shields as part of the sign legend.
  • Reassurance markers are used after major junctions and periodically in between to confirm the route and direction.
  • Trailblazer assemblies are posted on other roadways to "blaze the trail" to the highway in question, usually with a "TO" banner plate above the shield
  • Some jurisdictions place highway shields on highway location markers (kilometre or mile markers).
  • At complex interchanges, route shield pavement markings help motorists get into the correct lane.

Highway shields by country


Australia has maintained distinctly different trends pertaining to highway shields in the past and will continue in this vein somewhat, despite the conversion to alpha-numeric routes and shields. Alpha-numeric route numbering has been in use in Tasmania since the 1970s, and was introduced in the mainland states from 1996, with the state of Victoria being the first to implement the policy on the mainland.

Prior to this conversion and concurrently, Federal Highway (gold-on-green squared-off bullet), National Highway (black-on-white squared-off bullet), State Highway (blue bullet) and Tourist Route (white-on-brown rounded pentagon) shields existed. In Victoria Freeway shields were used (white-on-green with 'F' prefix) until the late 1980s, while during the 1990s Queensland and New South Wales implemented a hexagonal blue-on-white Metroad system of urban arterial routes. The Western Ring Road (now M80) in Melbourne initially used a shield quite similar to the U.S. Interstate shield, albeit with 'Ring Road' written instead of 'Interstate' and with 2 peaks rather than 3.

To further complicate matters, with the introduction of the alpha-numeric system, roads that are federally funded (or Federal Highways) have a squared-off bullet encompassing the alpha-numeric designation. Freeways and dual-carriageway roads often use an 'M' prefix, particularly in Victoria. In addition, trapezoidal signs are placed every 5 km on major regional highways and freeways indicating the distance to the post office of the next city or major town on the route. These signs usually only have the first letter of the destination; two or three letters are used if there is ambiguity between nearby towns or when the place name consists of two words.

Ring Road Route


Federal and state highways shields are standardized in Brazil by the National Transit Department (DENATRAN), but implementation is not always consistent nor even existent. In many states, highway names appear on highway location markers and guide signs with no highway shield.


Each province dictates the type of shields used as highway transportation is a provincial responsibility. However, the green and white signage for the Trans-Canada Highway is used nationwide. Each province has their own shape for the sign, though.



Shields for core highways in Alberta use black route number on a white squared-off bullet, while shields for local highways (500-986) use black route number on a white oval. Both variants feature the provincial wordmark across the top, although it may be omitted on certain guide signs.

Alberta Highway 2.svg Alberta Highway 501.svg

British Columbia

Standard shields for highways in British Columbia use blue route number on a white bullet, with the provincial shield of arms placed at the top. Certain highways (e.g. Crowsnest Highway, Southern Yellowhead Highway and Nisga'a Highway) use their own variations on the default provincial highway shield.

BC-99.svg BC-5 (Yellowhead).svg


Major or 400-series highways in Ontario have different kinds of shields depending on usage:

  • Roadside reassurance markers take the shape of a bullet with a crown on top. Default colour scheme is black text on white background, although the Queen Elizabeth Way uses blue "QEW" on gold, and provincially-maintained toll highways (407, 412 and 418) use white route numbers on blue. These shields used to be emblazoned with "The King's Highway" across the top, but the wording has been removed since the 1990s.
  • Markers on guide signs take the shape of a crown silhouette, with the route number placed within.

The exception is the private 407 Express Toll Route, which uses black route number on a white oval marker for both purposes.

Secondary provincial highways use an isosceles trapezoid as markers, while tertiary provincial highway markers use a rectangle with rounded corners.

Numbered roads maintained by Ontario's counties, regional municipalities and single-tier municipalities use an inverted isosceles trapezoid as markers. Default colour scheme is black text on white background, although certain jurisdictions use their own colour combinations (e.g. white on blue in Niagara, gold on black in Peel, and gold on green in Halton).

On the other hand, instead of an inverted trapezoid, the single-tier city of Toronto uses a roundel for its municipally-maintained freeways, the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The design is two-tone gold-on-green, with the road name in white on the green outer ring, and either the cardinal direction (for reassurance markers) or an arrow (for guidance to the freeway) in black on the gold inner disc. The city's other roads, such as Allen Road, do not have their own shields.


Shields for controlled-access autoroutes in Quebec use white route number on a blue bullet, with a white stylised drawing of a dual carriageway and an overpass on red across the top. Other provincial routes use white route number on a green French shield with three white fleur-de-lys across the top, while forest routes use white route number on a blue French shield with three white stylised trees across the top.

Quebec Autoroute 5.svg Qc112.svg Quebec R 405.png


German Autobahns as the nation's federal controlled-access highway system use a blue shield with slanted edges and white lettering. Other federal highways use a yellow shield with black lettering. The color schemes mirror the country's directional signange coloring system on these two types of roads.

Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Strategic Route and Exit Number System states that the standard shield should consist of a yellow, bullet-shaped shield with the route number in black color. It is used on all numbered routes in Hong Kong.

A typical shield for a numbered route in Hong Kong.


Examples of road signs of Indonesia National Route based on "Peraturan Dirjen Hubdat Kemenhub 2019"; a National Road, a Toll Road, and a Provincial Road

For national route numbering, every main island has its own number. For both national routes and toll roads, numbering starts at 1 on every main island and continues to the small surrounding islands.

  • National Route Sign Number: on the top of route number has combination letter "NASIONAL" with background color red, followed by region code each province and number route written on the bottom.
  • Toll Road Sign Number: on the top of route number has combination letter "TOL" with background color red, followed by region code each province and number route written on the bottom.
  • Provincial Route Sign Number: on the top of route number has combination letter "PROVINSI" with background color blue, followed by region code each regency or city and number route written on the bottom.


The national highways of Japan use a triangular blue shield with a white route number. The expressways use a rectangular green shield with a white letter and number combination with the name of the route written in Japanese and English. Routes on urban expressways are signed with a green shield with white numbers. The Shuto Expressway system also uses this sign but with the route name written in kanji-characters above the number. Prefecture-maintained routes use a hexagonal blue shield with a white route number, letter, or combination of both.


According to the Manual on Traffic Control Devices Standard Traffic Signs archived by Malaysian Public Works Department, a standard Malaysian highway shield consists of a yellow hexagon shield with black border line which resembles the Public Works Department's logo itself. The highway shield standard is used for all expressways, federal and state roads in Malaysia, which can be distinguished through the numbering scheme used (please refer to the Road signs in Malaysia article for details).

New Zealand

New Zealand shields are similar to the bullet-shaped markers used in Hong Kong, but are red rather than yellow.

State Highway 1 NZ.svg


Polish roads plates. Motorways are designated with "A", expressways are designated with "S". National roads and voivodeship roads display only numbers on signage


Philippine expressway and national road shields. Expressway are designated with "E", and signed with the letter. National roads omit the "N" on signage

National roads ("N" roads, of the primary and secondary designation) use white shields based on the Australian National Route shields, but signed with the number only, with N included for inventory purposes. Expressways ("E" roads) uses signs the same design as with national primary and secondary roads, but colored yellow, and unlike national roads, includes E to prevent confusion.

South Africa

The Southern African Development Community Road Traffic Signs Manual specifies designs for "confirmation route markers" for numbered national, provincial, regional and metropolitan routes. The national route marker is pentagonal, the provincial route marker is diamond-shaped, and the regional and metropolitan route markers are rectangular. The background is blue when used on a freeway and green for other roads. There is a white border and the lettering is yellow.[1]

South Korea

The expressway shields are shaped like U.S. Highway shields and colored like Interstate shields with red, white and blue, the colors of the flag of South Korea. The national route shields are a blue oval, and local route shields are a yellow square.


The national highway shields are in the shape of the Prunus mume, the national flower of Taiwan. Provincial highways have triangular shields similar in shape to that of the national highways of Japan, with different colored backgrounds to distinguish between ordinary roads and expressways. The county and city highways have a square shield, while its spur roads as well as township and district roads have rectangular ones.


O-1 (Otoyol 1)

United States

The default state route marker in the United States—now used by only five states for their primary routes.

The United States' Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) gives standard designs for highways in the Interstate Highway System and U.S. Route system. The Interstate shield is the only trademarked highway marker in use in the United States, and the U.S. Route shield was inspired by the Great Seal of the United States. The MUTCD also provides default designs for state highways (the circular highway shield) and county highways (a blue pentagon with yellow text).[2] However, states are free to use any design for their numbered routes; as of 2021 only five states (Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Jersey) use the default shield on their primary systems, and all others use a custom design. Oklahoma used the default until 2006, when it changed to a state outline. Maryland uses the default sporadically for locally maintained sections of state-numbered highways, most often in Baltimore, but otherwise uses a different design. Virginia and West Virginia use the default for their secondary state routes but different designs for their primary state routes. There are several additional designs used in the other states and territories. State outlines are used for primary numbered routes in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, new signs in North Dakota, Ohio, and Oklahoma, and for secondary numbered routes in Texas. Tennessee and South Carolina also incorporate state outlines into their shields. Other options include basic geometric shapes besides a circle (like squares in Illinois and Indiana, and diamonds in Michigan and North Carolina), or a design representing the state (like Pennsylvania's keystone design, Utah's beehive, Kansas' sunflower, and New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain). Washington uses a silhouette of George Washington's bust. New Mexico uses the default circle but adds a Zia sun symbol inside the circle around the number. Every state but California uses a square or rectangular sign for its state highways, mainly to save money on both custom cutting and to be contained on a rectangular sign with other route markers. Wisconsin's symbol is a nod to its former triangular shields, while utilizing a second rectangular outline to better fit a number at full-height. Some U.S. counties and townships also have unique shield designs, though most use the MUTCD default.


"QL" on a national road shield

Alternatives to shields

A route (or road) number, designation or abbreviation is an identifying numeric (or alphanumeric) designation assigned by a highway authority to a particular stretch of roadway to distinguish it from other routes and, in many cases, also to indicate its classification (e.g. motorway, primary route, regional road, etc.), general geographical location (in zonal numbering systems) and/or orientation (north-south v. east-west). The numbers chosen may be used solely for internal administrative purposes; however, in most cases they are also displayed on roadside signage and indicated on maps.

Many countries worldwide, such as the United Kingdom and France, do not use shields, instead relying on text representations of highway numbers. Road numbers (the term "highway" is not in general use in the UK) are prefixed by a letter indicating the type of road, for example M1, A1, B123 in the UK; A1, N1, D1 in France. These are sometimes highlighted with a different background color, depending on the class of highway and the context of the sign. The Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals specifies that "road identification signs" consist of the route number framed in a rectangle, a shield, or the relevant state's route classification symbol (if one exists).[3] The extent to which such signs are used varies between countries.

In the United States, route shield pavement markings sometimes accompany physical highway shield signs or serve as replacements for them.

Letters are often used in road designations to indicate a class of roadways. Within such a class, roads are distinguished from each other by a road number. The way such letters are used depends on the country or other political jurisdiction which contains and controls the road. For instance, among A1 motorways, the one in Spain has a hyphen between the A and the 1 (Autovia A-1) while in Germany the Autobahn 1 is written A 1, with a space between the A and the 1. In Argentina there are zeros between the A and the 1 (Autopista A001).

Depending on the country, the letter attributed to a road may be part of a road grading system, be a shortening for a type of road especially in a foreign language or refer to a geographical zoning system, such as the Appalachian Development Highway System or the county highway systems of California, Iowa, and Michigan in the United States

Single-letter abbreviations

  • "A" may mean "motorway" in a number of countries (ex. Autoroute in France or Autostrada in Italy or Autobahn in Germany), usually the largest and highest-quality roadways in the country. Is also used for primary roads in the UK. It also means a road of national significance in Australia.
  • "B" may mean "Bundesstraße" in Germany and means a road of state significance in Australia
  • "C" may mean county in the US and means a connecting route that connects two places in Victoria, Tasmania or the Northern Territory
  • "D" may mean "départementale" in France or "Diaľnica" in Slovakia
  • "E" may mean "European" road or "Expressways" in Zimbabwe
  • "F"
  • "G" may be used for a national highway or freeway in China
  • "H" may mean "Hawaiian Interstate" in the US
  • "I" may mean "Interstate" in the US
  • "J"
  • "K" may be used for a state highway in Kansas in the US or Kreissstraße in Germany
  • "L" may mean "local" route in Ireland or Landesstraße in Germany
  • "M" used for motorways in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, metropolitan routes in South Africa, municipal roads in Portugal, and also used for state highways in Michigan in the US
  • "N" may mean "national" road or for state highways in Nebraska
  • "O" may mean "Otoyol" in Turkey
  • "P"
  • "Q"
  • "R" may mean "regional" route in South Africa, Ireland, Portugal and Ukraine or "ring" road or "Rýchlostná cesta" in Slovakia
  • "S" may mean expressways in Austria ("Schnellstraße") and Poland ("droga ekspresowa") or "Shengdao/Provincial Highways" in China
  • "T" T roads in Malaysia are roads in Terrengganu; in some parts of the U.S., they are township roads; In Estonia, T is the official prefix for national routes; "territorial" roads in Ukraine
  • "U" may mean "unclassified" road; also used in Utah routes in the US
  • "V"
  • "W"
  • "X" may mean "Xiandao/County Highways" in China
  • "Y" may mean "Xiangdao/Town Highways" in China
  • "Z"

Multiple-letter abbreviations

  • AH roads in the Asian Highway Network
  • AP: Autopista de peaje (toll motorway) in Spain
  • BAB: Bundesautobahn (federal motorway) in Germany, only used in documents, normally just A
  • BR: Brazilian Federal Highway
  • CA-: highways part of the Central American highway network
  • CH/CR: County Highway, Route or Road in the US or Canada among other countries
  • CT: cao tốc (freeway/expressway) in Vietnam
  • DK: droga krajowa (national road) in Poland
  • DW: droga wojewódzka (voivodeship/provincial road) in Poland
  • E roads in the International E-road network in Europe
  • Fv: Fylkesvei (county road) in Norway
  • IC: Itinerário complementar (complementary route) in Portugal
  • IP: Itinerário principal (principal route) in Portugal
  • NH: Is used to designate National Highway network in India. Also used to designate State Highways in the US State of New Hampshire.
  • SH/SR: State Highway, Route or Road in New Zealand or the US
  • TAH: highways part of the Trans-African Highway network
  • TH/TR: Township Highway, Route or Road in the US
  • US: United States Numbered Highway


  1. ^ SADC Road Traffic Signs Manual, Volume 1: Uniform Traffic Control Devices. National Department of Transport (South Africa). May 2012. p. 4.7.7. Archived from the original on 4 September 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  2. ^ Staff. "Section 2D.11". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Federal Highway Administration.
  3. ^ "CONVENTION ON ROAD SIGNS AND SIGNALS" (PDF). United Nations. pp. Art.17, p.14. Retrieved 2007-11-17.

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