I am travelling by car in the USA (Massachusetts). Am I supposed to respect traffic signs that are upside down?

E.g. on this road, there have been an upside down 25 MPH speed limit for a while, I have no idea whether I am allowed ignore it:

enter image description here

  • 3
    Found you goo.gl/maps/OIN6i Looking East, that's definitely a suggestion to follow during the day.
    – PixnBits
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 23:50
  • 10
    I see a sign that says 52. Am I the only one?
    – Floris
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 4:50
  • 1
    @Floris I could see why that might be confusing since the numbers and letters on this upside down sign might look like "HdW 52". As the original post said, it is supposed to read "25 MPH". Those accustomed to seeing US signs would instantly recognize it as upside down. Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 5:45
  • 3
    This is near a university, it was probably turned upside down by a drunk frat boy.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 21:15
  • 5
    I've recently seen a STOP sign crushed and leaning down touching grass. Should I follow it? Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 22:11

3 Answers 3


Yes, any sign posted in the US is intended to be followed unless it explicitly has an X over it or it is covered up. Most likely the top screw of this sign has come loose and no maintenance has been done to fix it. Typically signs that are meant to not be respected are covered with black plastic or a board so they aren't even legible.

However, yellow signs like the one in the picture are advisory and following them exactly is usually not obligatory.

  • 7
    The best (and most honest) one of these yellow advisory signs I've ever seen was on the Washington Beltway, where the advisory sign said 55 MPH (which is the road speed limit...)
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 23:30
  • 1
    And they're still there! e.g. 39°00'42.46" N 77°03'51.50" W.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 0:58
  • 1
    @John yes I know that's what you meant, and no it's not 65 it's 55.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 2:05
  • 2
    @John I still live in the DC area, drive on that stretch of road fairly regularly, and can confirm that the actual regulatory (white sign) speed limit is 55 there.
    – cpast
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 2:35
  • 9
    It seems plausible to me that the advisory sign is more effective for safety purposes, since people interpret it as actually being a safety concern rather than a revenue generator. Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 18:37

That is definitely still a valid sign, although a lawyer could probably use the fact that the sign was damaged to avoid a related traffic ticket.

It's also a yellow warning sign, which means that the speed limit is still that which was posted on a white sign. You cannot be ticketed for going the speed limit, although the implication is that if you do hit a bicycle or a pedestrian in a crosswalk, you'll be more liable for negligence than if you had slowed down. Basically, if it's a time of day when foot traffic is high in the area, you probably shouldn't be doing 35. But if it's 4am and you're the only one on the road, you definitely don't have to slow down.

  • 2
    In urban areas, speed limit signs are typically advisory only -- speed limits apply whether there's a sign there or not. Local codes will generally spell out a blanket speed limit for the city with exceptions for designated streets, and drivers are expected to follow those speed limits whether there are signs or not. Someone I know tried to escape a speeding ticket (45 in a 25 zone) because there the sign was missing, but his defense was rejected because city speed limits apply whether or not they are posted.
    – Johnny
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 23:42
  • 8
    @Johnny Honest question: Is every driver supposed to research local speed limits of all cities one might pass through?
    – neo
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 23:48
  • 2
    @neo The limit is almost universally 25 or 30, so it's kind of a moot point. Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 4:01
  • 2
    @neo I guess the answer depends on the country you're in, but it's hard to see how you'd expect to get away with speeding anywhere with that defence. There's no difference between driving laws and any other laws in that regard. "What? You can't smoke a fat joint in the park? You can where I come from!"
    – bye
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 12:45
  • 9
    "You cannot be ticketed for going the speed limit". Yes, you can. In California, you can be ticketed for going the posted speed limit if the weather conditions happen to make driving at that speed unsafe.
    – jamesdlin
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 16:13

The sign being upside-down is irrelevant, for reasons I'll describe.

USDOT has a standard for how everybody in the US should do street signs.

Your sign is yellow, and thus, advisory: Not enforceable per se. However, police have several options for writing you a ticket regardless.

  • Failure to yield to pedestrians (a pedestrian tries to step out, and you are driving too fast to bring your car to an orderly stop when they do).
  • Driving too fast for conditions (e.g. if conditions are ripe for the above to happen because people are milling around or heading toward the crossing).
  • Ditto, if you seem unable to stop in the distance you can see, noting the congestion, narrow lane, and poor sight lines.

Note that none of these above citations require the sign to even exist. Therefore, the sign being upside-down has no legal weight. The sign is just a reminder of something a competent driver should already observe.

This sort of thing is often done deliberately as a "traffic calming" tactic. If you drive aggressively to defeat "traffic calming", you'll anger the cops, because they were part of the planning/design process, and may have recommended it in the first place because they were sick of cleaning up accidents here.

Now, the most important signs - passive (unpowered) traffic controls - actually get special treatment.

They are coded with a totally unique shape not used by any other sign. You are obliged to recognize them by shape even if snow covered, vandalized, or tilted. Let's see if you can get them right.

enter image description here

Railroad crossing ahead

enter image description here Imported from Detroit.

You knew this one!
Intersection just beyond. STOP. Then look for cross traffic and yield to it.
Yeah, it could be green and say "GO!" Still means stop.

enter image description here

That railroad crossing we warned you about earlier, is here.
Watch out for the locomotive. Also, don't drive into the side of the train.

enter image description here

Intersection just beyond. Look for cross traffic and yield to it.

You notice that I was naughty. The first and fourth signs were rotated 60 degrees from normal. That doesn't matter.

Another unique is the oblong triangle pointing right, always on the wrong side of the road. It means "You've run out of passing lane, bud. Finish or abort your pass, right now." But it would not be mistaken for a yield.

  • I think the question is about the fact that the sign appears to be mounted upside down, rather than its meaning in general. Commented May 3, 2020 at 5:26
  • @Roddy yeah I kinda inferred my point. Let me state it better. Commented May 3, 2020 at 5:35
  • I think image 2 and image 3 are upside down. Maybe. Actually all 4 are upside down.
    – shoover
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 20:45
  • So, what about the fact that "no left turn", "no right turn" and "do not enter" are all square? Commented May 4, 2020 at 23:47
  • @NateEldredge They couldn't have an unlimited number of shapes. They had to draw the line somewhere. Commented May 5, 2020 at 6:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .