Stop sign

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A stop sign in Australia

A stop sign is a traffic sign to notify drivers that they must stop before proceeding.[1]

Vienna Convention[edit]

The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals allows for two types of stop sign, as well as three acceptable variants. Sign B2a is a red octagon with the inscription "STOP" in white. Sign B2b is a red circle with a red inverted triangle with either a white or yellow background, and the inscription "STOP" in either black or dark blue. The Convention allows for the word "STOP" to be in either English or the national language of the particular country.


The Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals proposed the standard stop sign diameters of 600, 900 or 1200 mm. UK and New Zealand stop signs are 750, 900 or 1200 mm, according to sign location and traffic speeds.[2][3] In the United States, stop signs have a size of 750 mm across opposite flats of the red octagon, with a 20 mm white border. The white uppercase letters forming the stop legend are 250 mm tall.[4][5] Larger signs of 900 mm (36 in) with 300 mm (12 in) legend and 25 mm (⅞ in) border are used on multi-lane expressways. Regulatory provisions exist for extra-large 1200 mm (48 in) signs with 400 mm (16 in) legend and 30 mm (1¼ in) border for use where sign visibility or reaction distance are limited, and the smallest permissible stop sign size for general usage is 600 mm (24 in) with a 200 mm (8 in) legend and 15 mm (⅝ in) border.[6] The metric units specified in the US regulatory manuals are rounded approximations of US customary units, not exact conversions.[5][7] Field, legend, and border are all retroreflective.

The stop instruction is specified with either an English STOP or local language legend in the United Nations Convention on Road Signs and Signals. Some countries use both. The sign's distinctive design was developed and first used in the U.S., and later adopted by other countries and by the U.N. Despite this, the U.S. is not a signatory to the U.N. Traffic Signs and Signals Convention. The reason that the U.S. has the same signs as specified by the Convention is that the convention has adopted the U.S. standard.

Placement and standardization[edit]

Stop signs are used globally. However, most countries see fewer of them than North America and South Africa, because all-way stops are never used and may even be legally prohibited.[8] In a majority of European countries including France, Spain and Italy, junctions without traffic lights or roundabouts are controlled by stop signs on minor roads and by white, yellow and black priority diamond signs on the major road. In the UK, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, New Zealand and Australia, stop signs are restricted to situations wherein coming to a dead stop is actually necessary because of severely limited sight lines. At the vast majority of minor intersections in these countries Give Way signs and/or equivalent road markings are used. Finally, at the busier crossing streets, Give Way signs may be replaced by (mini) roundabouts, which also work on the give way (rather than stop) principle.

In North America[edit]

Stop signs are often used in North America to control conflicting traffic movements at intersections which are not busy enough to justify the installation of a traffic signal or roundabout. In the United States, the stop sign is not intended for use as a traffic calming device;[6] it is meant to be installed mainly for safety and/or to assign right-of-way for a certain direction. Nevertheless, in the United States, Mexico and Canada, stop signs are commonly deployed as supposed safety measures in residential areas and near places where children play or walk (such as schoolyards), or which experience frequent automobile accidents, making extra precautions necessary. Stop signs may be erected on all intersecting roads, resulting in three- and four-way stops.[6] However, studies have confirmed that stop signs do not offer measurable safety benefits over the Yield approach adopted in the countries listed above based on original European research dating back many decades.[9][10]

More recently, Georgia Traffic Engineer Martin Bretherton Jr. reviewed over 70 technical papers to find that multi-way stop signs do not typically control traffic speeds, and can create a variety of problems, including liability issues, traffic noise, pollution, enforcement problems and poor stop compliance when drivers feel that the signs have no justification. Fifteen studies found that unwarranted multi-way stops actually increased speed away from intersections as motorists try to make up lost time spent at "unnecessary" stop signs. Multi-way stop signs impose high vehicle operating costs, longer than needed travel times, excessive fuel consumption and increased vehicle emissions.[11]

Researchers also found that safety of pedestrians (especially small children) may sometimes be actually decreased. Pedestrians expect vehicles to stop, but many drivers run the "unnecessary" signs. Engine exhaust, brake, tire and aerodynamic noise may all increase as cars brake and then accelerate up to speed. While the initial cost of installing stop signs is low, enforcement costs can be prohibitive, and one 1990 study estimated extra travel costs per intersection as $210,061/year.[12] Finally, where unwarranted multi-way stops have been successfully removed with public support, results have included improved compliance at justified stop signs.

An American school bus displaying front and rear folding stop signs

Another major issue surrounding the use of stop signs pertains to the public's variegated understanding of their meaning. One prolific source of accidents is the misconception of law that every motorist who attempts to enter a main highway from a side road, does so at his or her peril. Such motorists usually have very definite rights granted by provisions of state vehicle codes, which provide that after the driver has 'yielded' by stopping at an arterial sign he or she may proceed and the drivers of all other vehicles approaching the intersection on the through highway shall yield the right of way to the vehicle crossing the through highway.[13] Where a car has actually entered an intersection before the other approaches it, the driver of the first car has the right to assume that he or she will be given the right of way and be permitted to pass through the intersection without danger of collision. He or she has a right to assume that the driver of the other car will obey the law, slow down, and yield the right of way, if slowing down be necessary to prevent a collision.[14]

On school buses[edit]

A pivoting arm equipped with a stop sign is a piece of equipment required by law on North American school buses. The sign normally stows flat on the left side of the bus, and is deployed by the driver while picking up or dropping off passengers. Some buses have two such stop arms, one near the front facing forwards, and one near the rear facing backwards. The stop sign is retroreflective and equipped either with red blinking lights above and below the stop legend, or with a stop legend that is illuminated by LEDs. Unlike a normal stop sign, this sign requires other vehicles travelling in both directions to remain stopped until the sign is retracted. This concept was developed by Cyril Mandville of St. Mary's Bay, NL while working on the American Naval Base in Argentia, Newfoundland.[citation needed]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, stop signs may be placed only at sites with severely restricted visibility, and each must be individually approved by the Secretary of State for Transport.[15] Section 79 of the Highways Act 1980 enables the government to improve visibility at junctions, as by removing or shortening walls or hedges, in preference to placing a stop sign. The former UK practice of using "Halt" or "Slow" at Major Road Ahead signs was discontinued in 1965 at the recommendation of the Worboys Committee.[16] Instead of replacing all the old "Halt" signs with the new Vienna Convention "Stop" sign, "Give Way" became the standard sign at UK priority junctions.[17]

Compliance requirements[edit]

Laws and regulations regarding how drivers must comply with a stop sign vary by jurisdiction. In the United States and Canada, these rules are set and enforced at the state or provincial level.[citation needed] At a junction where two or more traffic directions are controlled by stop signs, generally the driver who arrives and stops first continues first. If two or three drivers in different directions stop simultaneously at a junction controlled by stop signs, generally the drivers on the left must yield the right-of-way to the driver on the far right.

In all countries, the driver must come to a complete stop before entering a stop-controlled intersection, even if no other vehicle or pedestrian is visible. If a stop line is marked on the pavement, they must stop before crossing the line.

However, some drivers slow but don't come to a complete stop. This maneuver is called a rolling stop or nicknamed after a city or region regarded as somewhere it is commonplace (e.g., "Rhode Island roll" or "California stop"[18]) – slowing down significantly but not stopping completely at the sign.[19] This partial stop is not acceptable to most law enforcement officials, and can result in a traffic citation.


In some jurisdictions, most notably Idaho, the traffic code allows for cyclists approaching a stop sign to slow to a "reasonable speed" and yield to conflicting traffic, but does not mandate a full stop unless "required for safety".[20] This is commonly known as an "Idaho stop" or "stop-as-yield". The Idaho law has been in effect since 1982 and has not been shown to be detrimental to safety.[21] Cyclist advocacy groups have sought similar laws for other jurisdictions in the United States.[22][23]

Theft and vandalism[edit]

Stop signs are sometimes vandalized or stolen as pranks. A fatal accident caused by the theft of a stop sign could result in manslaughter charges against the offender.[24]


Yellow 1924–1954 stop sign. Mounting height is typical.

Stop signs originated in Michigan in 1915.[25][26] 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 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. It was also chosen so that it could be identified easily at night, since the original signs were not reflective. The National Conference on Street and Highway Safety (NCSHS), a group competing with AASHTO, advocated a smaller pink-on-yellow stop sign.[25] 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 stop sign specifications were altered eight times between 1935 and 1971, mostly dealing with its reflectorization and its mounting height. From 1924 to 1954, stop signs were made with a black stop legend on a yellow field. In 1954, the sign gained its current white legend/red field color configuration. Red signifies stop on traffic signals, so this specification unified red as a stop signal whether indicated by sign or by light. The mounting height reached its current level of 7 ft (2.13 m) in 1971;[25] previously, stop signs were typically mounted 2–3 feet (0.61–0.91 m)[vague] above the ground.[27]

The already-widespread use of the MUTCD stop sign became law in the United States in 1966.[25] 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 allows an alternative circular yellow sign. Many European countries are party to the Convention. English-speaking countries, the exception being India, are not party to the Convention but usually use the red octagonal stop sign per their own standards, like the MUTCD. Even in countries not associated with either standard mentioned above the red octagonal stop sign is often used. Unique types of stop signs may be still be observed in countries like Japan.

Sign variants[edit]

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 of or in addition to it. Israel uses the image of a hand in a "stop" gesture.

In some 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.

Bilingual stop sign.

In Quebec, Canada, modern signs read either arrêt or stop,[28] however it is not uncommon to see older signs containing both words in smaller lettering, with arrêt on top.[29] Both stop and arrêt are considered valid French words and the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) notes that the use of "stop" on stop signs is attested in French since 1927.[30] In practice, however, it can be empirically observed (for instance, with Google Street View) that "arrêt" predominates in French-speaking areas (i.e., most of the geographic extent of Québec), while "stop" can be found in majority English-speaking areas such as Montreal's West Island suburbs. At the time of the debates surrounding the adoption of the Charter of the French Language ("Bill 101") in 1977, the usage of "stop" on the older dual-word signs was considered to be English and therefore controversial; some signs were occasionally vandalized with red spray paint to turn the word stop into "101".[31] 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 not considered bilingual but merely redundant and therefore deprecated (à éviter). All newly installed signs thus use either one word or the other, but not both.

The province of New Brunswick has bilingual stop arrêt in English-speaking areas. Acadian regions of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island also have bilingual signs. Some areas in Manitoba and Ottawa, Ontario also have bilingual signs. Entering the country through Canada Customs, also have bilingual stop signs. On First Nations or Inuit territories, stop signs sometimes use the local aboriginal language in addition to or instead of English and/or French. Other parts of Canada use stop.

Almost all of Europe, including e.g. France, Greece, Russia, Serbia and Spain except Turkey, use stop in Latin letters.

The white legend/red field appearance is usually the same. Exceptions include Japan, which uses an inverted solid red triangle; and Zimbabwe, which uses a disc bearing a black cross.

Stop signs around the world[edit]

Old stop signs[edit]

Stop Ahead signs[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, 1968. United Nations Publication. ISBN 978-92-1-116973-7
  2. ^ UK Department of Transport. Traffic Signs Manual, Chapter 3: Regulatory Signs, 9 September 2008 [1] PDF (2.0 MB)
  3. ^ New Zealand Transport Agency. Traffic Control Devices Manual: General requirements for traffic signs. {{[2]|963 KB}}
  4. ^ Standard Highway Signs manual, 2004 Metric edition 8.36&nbsp MB
  5. ^ a b Standard Highway Signs manual, 2004 English edition PDF (8.49 MB)
  6. ^ a b c "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices 2003, Section 2B". Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  7. ^ Standard Highway Signs manual, 2004 Metric edition PDF (8.36 MB)
  8. ^ UK Department of Transport. Traffic Signs Manual, Chapter 3: Regulatory Signs, Section 3.4, 9 September 2008 [3] PDF (2.0 MB)
  9. ^ Some factors influencing the road behaviour of vehicle drivers. R.J. Smeed, UK Road Research Laboratory. Operational Research Quarterly, Journal of the Operational Research Society, Birmingham, England, 1952.
  10. ^ Driver behaviour and accident records at unsignalized urban intersections. Abishai Polusa, Department of Civil Engineering & Transportation Research Institute, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel. June 1984. Available online 4 July 2002.
  11. ^ Bretherton, M. “Multi-Way Stops—The MUTCD Is Correct!” 1999 ITE Compendium of Technical Papers. Institute of Transportation Engineers, August 1999.
  12. ^ Carl R. Dawson, Jr., "Effectiveness of Stop Signs When Installed to Control Speeds Along Residential Streets", Proceedings from Southern District ITE Meeting, Institute of Transportation Engineers, Richmond, Virginia, April 1993.
  13. ^ Grasso v. Cunial, 106 Cal. App. 2d 294, Stafford v. Alexander, 182 Cal. App. 2d 301, Malinson v. Black, 83 Cal. App. 2d 375, Glynn v. Vaccari, 64 Cal. App. 2d 718, and Casselman v. Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., 36 Cal. App. 2d 700
  14. ^ Stafford v. Alexander, 182 Cal. App. 2d 301
  15. ^ UK Department of Transport. Traffic Signs Manual, Chapter 3: Regulatory Signs, Section 3.2, 9 September 2008
  16. ^ Great Britain. Report of the Traffic Signs Committee [Chairman, Sir Walter Worboys], 18 April 1963.
  17. ^ "New traffic signs demonstrated on road at Birmingham." The Surveyor and Municipal Engineer, vol 122, p880, 1963.
  18. ^ Rosenberg, Mike (30 September 2010). "Cheaper fines for right turn on red? No way, governor says". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 30 September 2010. 
  19. ^ " definition". Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  20. ^ "Bicycle-related Idaho Code". Idaho Vehicle Code Title 49, Chapter 7. Idaho Transportation Department. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  21. ^ "Bike Law University: Idaho Stop". League of American Wheelman. August 22, 2013. 
  22. ^ Maus, Jonathan. "Exclusive: BTA will go for "Idaho style" stop sign law". Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  23. ^ "Idaho-style STOP law". San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  24. ^ Thomas Miller v. State of Florida, Second District Court of Appeal of Florida, 2001-02-28. Retrieved 2008-10-03.
  25. ^ a b c d Signalfan. History of the Stop Sign in America. 1997.
  26. ^ Greenbaum, Hilary; Rubinstein, Dana (December 9, 2011). "The Stop Sign Wasn’t Always Red". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2013. 
  27. ^ Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. 1948 Edition. Part 1A, Section 31. "[A stop sign] shall be mounted so that its bottom will be 212 feet above the crown of the roadway."
  28. ^ "Répertoire des dispositifs de signalisation routière du Québec, Transports Québec". Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  29. ^ "Canada, Quebec, Montreal, bilingual Stop sign Stock Photos". Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  30. ^ Office québécois de la langue française, No direct link: look up "panneau STOP" under "Recherche" and then click on either "route" or "transport" under the resulting "Index" listing
  31. ^ Photo by user "imagesdistributioncanada"

External links[edit]