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A Guide to Different Types of Traffic Markers

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The different names and designs of safety cones, and how they're used

traffic cone
Traffic cone
Photo: memyselfaneye via Pixabay

When driving on the highway, it’s common to pass through construction zones filled with orange markers telling you where to go. Since traffic cones are all over our streets, it’s easy to not give them much thought. But these useful markers create visual and spatial barriers along roads in dangerous areas to help keep us drivers safer.

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The diversity of traffic cones

Road cones — also known as traffic pylons, highway cones, safety cones, and construction cones — come in all shapes and sizes. Here in the U.S., orange is the most typical color of cone to see. Though, sometimes you might see other colors such as lime green or blue, as Safety Resource Center’s Chris Giarratana shares. These can be used to signal entrances and exits for drivers and high-traffic parking areas, respectively.

Types of safety cones

In general, there are three main types of portable traffic control markers based on their shape: drums, cones, and tubes. Tubes can also be categorized based on the shape of their top: traditional (flat/round hole), grabber (a knob to pick up by), and looper (a ring through which rope can be strung). Here’s a general overview of some of the traffic markers frequently seen on American roads, as Traffic Safety Warehouse confirms.


traffic barrel drum
Traffic drum
Photo: Christian Allen via Pixabay

The most common safety indicator used on freeways is shaped like a barrel and stands about three feet tall. Drums are heavy, durable, and can be seen from far away, so they’re ideal for use around high-speed traffic areas. They can be mounted with extra reflectors.


safety cone traffic cone
Safety cone
Photo: Rudy and Peter Skitterians via Pixabay

Synonymous with indication caution areas, traffic cones come in all shapes, sizes, and colors but aren’t used very frequently these days. You’ll typically find them in parking lots or on the sides of roads where cars are temporarily parked. They’re usually carried and used by everyday motorists in emergency/immediate situations.


These tall, thin cones–alternating colored and white sections that look like a hybrid between a tube and cone–are often seen in zones where pedestrians and traffic are next to each other. For instance, these are ideal for use in public street festivals to show what areas of the street are being closed off for pedestrians, as these tubes often have loops where rope can be added to create a path.


These tubes are used to guide drivers at low speeds through/around areas of work zone activities. They have wide, heavy bases and two-or-three reflector rings (called collars) at the top.


road guard rail delineator posts
Delineators on a guard rail
Photo: Tom via Pixabay

These posts resemble channelizers but are used in more long-term, local environments, such as roundabouts and merges. They have smaller bases but can be adhered to the ground for long-term use. Some delineators also come in more unconventional shapes like these delineators used to designate bike lanes in Los Angeles.

As enlightening as it is to know the names and uses of different traffic cones, it’s also important to remember to drive cautiously through construction zones. Brush up on some safety tips to remember when driving through work areas. Then arm yourself with these strategies to avoid getting stuck in traffic jams.  

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