When it comes to traffic, what’s even more important than moving? The answer is, obviously, stopping until the way is clear. When it comes to safety (and that’s what traffic signs are all about), it represents no doubt the most essential of all existing road signs.
The first stop sign was planted in Detroit, Michigan in 1915. Until the end of the 1920s there was no standardized color for stop signs. Then somebody came up with the brilliant idea – quite literally – of using a uniform background, yellow, for optimal visibility both day and night.
Later, in the 50s, sign makers had already learned to apply long-lasting fade-resistant red coatings on sign faces. That advance made possible the change to the current red color and allowed drivers to discriminate the regulatory stop sign from yellow warning signs. Another advantage with this transition lies in the fact that it harmonized the color with that of red traffic lights, which had already been using red to signal “stop.”
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.
The already-widespread use of the octagonal stop sign became law in the United States in 1966. This sign was later adopted by the United Nations as part of its efforts to standardize road travel. For this reason, most European countries began using stop signs in English in the 1970s.
Although all English-speaking and European countries use the English legend “STOP” on stop signs, some countries use a roughly equivalent word in their primary language instead (or in addition to it). That’s the case of several Spanish-speaking Latin American countries, most Arab countries, China, Taiwan, Iran, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, South Korea, Ethiopia and some parts of Canada, the one country in the world with most variations of stop signs and the only one that officially employs “regional” languages on them. Its white legend/red field appearance is otherwise the same. The few known exceptions include Israel, which boasts the only non-verbal stop sign in the world in the form of a white hand, and Japan, which uses the Japanese word for Stop in white type on an inverted solid red triangle.