A stop sign is a traffic sign designed to notify drivers that they must come to a complete stop and make sure the intersection is safely clear of vehicles and pedestrians before continuing past the sign. In many countries, the sign is a red octagon with the word STOP, in either English or the national language of that particular country, displayed in white or yellow. The Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals also allows an alternative version: a red circle with a red inverted triangle with either a white or yellow background, and a black or dark blue STOP. Some counties may also use other types, such as Japan’s inverted red triangle stop sign. Particular regulations regarding appearance, installation, and compliance with the signs vary by some jurisdiction.
Design and configuration
The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals allows for two types of stop sign as well as several acceptable variants. Sign B2a is a red octagon with a white stop legend. The European Annex to the convention also allows the background to be “light yellow”. Sign B2b is a red circle with a red inverted triangle with either a white or yellow background, and a black or dark blue stop legend. The Convention allows for the word “STOP” to be in either English or the national language of the particular country. The finalized version by the United Nations Economic and Social Council‘s Conference on Road Traffic in 1968 (and in force in 1978) proposed standard stop sign diameters of 600, 900 or 1200 mm.
The United Kingdom and New Zealand stop signs are 750, 900 or 1200 mm, according to sign location and traffic speeds.
In the United States, stop signs are 30 inches (75 cm) across opposite flats of the red octagon, with a 3/4-inch (2 cm) white border. The white uppercase stop legend is 10 inches (25 cm) tall. Larger signs of 35 inches (90 cm) with 12-inch (30 cm) legend and 1-inch (2.5 cm) border are used on multi-lane expressways. Regulatory provisions exist for extra-large 45-inch (120 cm) signs with 16-inch (40 cm) legend and 1+3/4-inch border for use where sign visibility or reaction distance are limited, and the smallest permissible stop sign size for general usage is 24 inches (60 cm) with an 8-inch (20 cm) legend and 5/8-inch (1.5 cm) border. The metric units specified in the US regulatory manuals are rounded approximations of US customary units, not exact conversions. The field, legend, and border are all retroreflective.
Stop signs originated in Michigan in 1915. The first ones had black lettering on a white background and were 24 by 24 inches (61 cm × 61 cm), somewhat smaller than the current sign. As stop signs became more widespread, a rural-dominated committee supported by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) met in 1922 to standardize them and selected the octagonal shape that has been used in the United States ever since. The unique eight-sided shape of the sign allows drivers facing the back of the sign to identify that oncoming drivers have a stop sign and prevent confusion with other traffic signs. Another consideration of the AASHO was visibility and driver literacy, as summarized in subsequent State Highway Commission reports in the states of the U.S., was that the goal for signs “standardized throughout the Union” was that “The shape of the sign will indicate what it will mean. This has been worked up very carefully by the best qualified men in the country and men who have made a thorough study of this question. It has been found that so many people have trouble in reading the sign that the shape of the sign is very much more important than the reading matter on it.”
The octagon was also chosen so that it could be identified easily at night since the original signs were not reflective. The more urban-oriented National Conference on Street and Highway Safety (NCSHS) advocated a smaller red-on-yellow stop sign. These two organizations eventually merged to form the Joint Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which in 1935 published the first Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) detailing the stop sign’s specifications.
The MUTCD’s stop sign specifications were altered eight times between 1935 and 1971. From 1924 to 1954, stop signs bore a red or black stop legend on a yellow field. Yellow was chosen because fade-resistant red materials were not available. Retro-reflective or self-lit signs were permitted in the 1935 MUTCD; retro-reflective ones were first required by the 1948 edition of the MUTCD, which also called for a 2+1/2-foot (0.76-metre) height from the road crown to the bottom of the stop sign. The 1954 MUTCD newly specified a white stop legend on a red field, and increased the mount height specification to 5 feet in rural areas. Red traffic lights signify stop, so the new specification unified red as a stop signal whether given by a sign or a light. The current mounting height of 7 ft (2.13 m) was first specified in 1971.
US mandate, international adoption
The MUTCD stop sign was already widely deployed in the United States when its use became mandatory in 1966. In 1968, this sign was adopted by the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals as part of United Nations Economic Commission for Europe‘s effort to standardize road travel across borders. The Convention specifies that stop be written in English or the national language, and also allows a circular sign with red legend. Forty European countries are party to the Convention.
Stop signs around the world
The red octagonal field with white English-language stop legend is the most common stop sign used around the world, but it is not universal; Japan uses an inverted solid red triangle, for example, and Zimbabwe until 2016 used a disc bearing a black cross. Moreover, there are many variants of the red-and-white octagonal sign. Although all English-speaking and many other countries use the word stop on stop signs, some jurisdictions use an equivalent word in their primary language instead, or in addition; the use of native languages is common on U.S. native reservations, especially those promoting language revitalization efforts, for example, and Israel uses no word, but rather a pictogram of a hand in a palm-forward “stop” gesture.
Countries in Asia generally use a native word, often in a non-Latin script.
Countries in Europe generally have stop signs with the text stop, regardless of local language. There were some objections to this when introduced around the 1970s, but now this is accepted. Turkey is a notable exception to this, instead using the Turkish word for stop: “dur”.
In Spanish-speaking Caribbean and South American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela), signs bear the legend pare (“stop” in Portuguese and Spanish). Mexico and Central American countries bear the legend alto (“halt”) instead.
In the Canadian province of Quebec, modern signs read either arrêt or stop; however, it is not uncommon to see older signs containing both words in smaller lettering. Both stop and arrêt are considered valid French words, with France actually using the word “STOP” on its stop signs, and the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) notes that the use of “stop” on stop signs is attested in French since 1927. At the time of the debates surrounding the adoption of the Charter of the French Language (“Bill 101”) in 1977, the usage of “stop” was considered to be English and therefore controversial; some signs were occasionally vandalized with red spray paint to turn the word stop into “101”. However, it was later officially determined by the OQLF that “stop” is a valid French word in this context, and the older dual arrêt / stop usage is therefore considered redundant and therefore deprecated (à éviter). Newly installed signs thus use only one word, more commonly only arrêt in Québec, while stop is seen in predominantly English-speaking areas. Bilingual signs with stop arrêt are still placed in English-speaking areas of New Brunswick and Manitoba; the Acadian regions of Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island; on federal property in the National Capital Region; and at all border crossings of the Canada–United States border. On First Nations or Inuit territories, stop signs sometimes use the local aboriginal language in addition or instead of English, French, or both. All other English-speaking areas of Canada use stop.
- Arabic-speaking countries use قف qif (except for Lebanon, which only uses stop since 2018)
- Australia, New Zealand and the United States use the standard version of the sign
- Armenia uses ԿԱՆԳ kang
- Brazil and Spanish-speaking Caribbean and South American nations use pare
- Cambodia uses ឈប់ chhob
- Mainland China and Taiwan use 停 tíng, except that Mainland China’s sign has a bolder word.
- Ethiopia uses ቁም ḳumə
- Iran and Afghanistan use ایست ist
- Japan uses 止まれ tomare
- Laos uses ຢຸດ yud
- North Korea uses 섯 sŏt
- Portuguese-speaking countries with the exception of Brazil use the standard version of the sign
- South Korea uses 정지 jeongji
- Spain uses stop
- Malaysia and Brunei use berhenti
- Mexico and other Central American nations use alto
- Mongolia uses ЗОГС zogs
- Myanmar uses ရပ် raut
- Nigeria uses a stop sign with a yellow typeface.
- Russian-speaking countries use either stop or стоп (i.e. stop transliterated into Russian)
- Thailand uses หยุด yùd
- Turkey uses dur
- Vietnam uses a version of the stop sign with smaller text: stop