Everyone Brakes for This Sign
A GLOBAL UNDERSTANDING
What do stop signs look like in other countries? We didn't know, and we thought it would be a good "Kidspace" feature to run a series of photos of them So we asked Monitor photographers traveling abroad to stop and take a picture of a stop sign.
Were we in for a surprise.
The first photo was from Moscow. Wait a minute - it looks exactly like an American stop sign! What's going on here?
We asked one of the Monitor's writers in Moscow, Marshall Ingwerson, to look into this. He contacted an official at the research institute of the State Automobile Inspectorate in Moscow. Here's what he found out:
Russians do indeed use American-style stop signs with Latin characters and the English word "stop." They have since 1968. Before that, stop signs were a red circle with a yellow, upside-down triangle inside it. "Stop" was printed inside the yellow triangle in Cyrillic characters: C-T-O, followed by the upside-down, square-cornered U that is descended from the Greek character "pi," for P.
The first international agreement on traffic signs and signals was signed in 1909 in Paris. You can imagine why: With automobile traffic growing in Europe, and cars traveling from country to country, it was vital that all drivers knew what basic traffic signs meant. It was a safety issue.
In 1949, the convention on traffic signs suggested that countries adopt the American-style stop sign with its distinctive hexagonal shape.
But not until 1968 did an international convention in Vienna make the familiar stop sign standard in countries that had signed and ratified the convention. (Ironically, that did not include the United States and Canada.) Some countries still have unique stop signs.
The USSR, after some debate, agreed to change its stop signs to match the international norm.
According to traffic-engineering lore, the octagonal stop sign evolved from an early 20th-century drawing of an open casket. It was placed at intersections to warn motorists of danger.
The signs started out being yellow and black. Everyone knew that red was the best color, but paint manufacturers couldn't make a fade-proof red.
The Oklahoma State Department of Geography sponsors a World Wide Web page with pictures of the world's stop signs: