Stop sign

A stop sign in Australia

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


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 (35 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 1,200 mm (47 in) signs with 400 mm (16 in) legend and 30 mm (1 14 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 (7.9 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

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

Stop signs are often used in North America to control conflicting traffic movements at intersections that 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 that 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] In order to be able fulfill the duty of yielding to entering motorists who have established control of the intersection, the through-driver must travel no faster than permitted by the assured clear distance ahead.[15][16]

Vehicles that are approaching an intersection from beyond the subtended angular velocity detection threshold (SAVT) limit may be perceived with subjective constancy by the stopped driver;[17] which means the oncoming vehicle cannot be reliably distinguished between moving or parked or give insight to time-to-collision, though they may be traveling at such an imprudent speed as to pose an immediate hazard.[18] An entering driver must have fair notice that his or her contemplated conduct is forbidden by such hazard for it to be illegal.[19]

Stop sign placement can pose an additional challenge to users. There is a trade-off between the salient visual cues provided by increased limit line set-back, and the crucial time that is lost in approaching the intersection from behind that line; being closer can provide a few additional seconds requisite for safe transit. However, common creeping into the intersection past the limit line causes drivers to loose the invaluable perspective of the visual acuity of lateral motion,[20] crippling them to the more dangerous SAVT.[18] This makes it very difficult to estimate the movement of oncoming traffic.[18][17] As intersections are not engineered to be used this way,[21] the traffic flow ideals have broken down when drivers consistently choose this method as the safer alternative. Stop signs are accompanied with a limit line,[22] which has a mandatory set-back distance[23][24][25] which is often not less than 15 feet.[25] While it may be negligence per se to prematurely pass the stop limit line,[22] drivers may be unfairly denied sufficient time gap or opportunity to enter otherwise because of the through-traffic flow and speed; the inherent problem with this traffic control device. While stop signs are a relatively inexpensive method of traffic management, they can be expensive from perspective of the damage they cause users. Pricey but safer traffic signals, roundabouts, and traffic circles are alternatively used where traffic flow dictates it is inappropriate to use a stop sign. It is just as crucial for law enforcement to regulate traffic through-speed that is above the assured clear distance ahead ahead as it is to cite stop sign runners for this device to be a viable option.

On school buses

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.

United Kingdom

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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

Compliance requirements

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. 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"[29]) – slowing down significantly but not stopping completely at the sign.[30] 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".[31] 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.[32] Cyclist advocacy groups have sought similar laws for other jurisdictions in the United States.[33][34]

Theft and vandalism

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.[35]


Stop signs originated in Michigan in 1915.[36][37] 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.[36] 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;[36] previously, stop signs were typically mounted 2–3 feet (0.61–0.91 m) above the ground.[38]

The already-widespread use of the MUTCD stop sign became law in the United States in 1966.[36] 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 still be observed in countries like Japan.

Sign variants

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.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, modern signs read either arrêt or stop,[39] however it is not uncommon to see older signs containing both words in smaller lettering, with arrêt on top.[40] 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.[41] 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".[42] 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 France, Greece, Russia, Serbia and Spain, but not Turkey, use stop in Latin letters.

The white text on red background 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

Old stop signs

See also


  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 "". External link in |title= (help);  (2.0 MB)
  3. New Zealand Transport Agency. Traffic Control Devices Manual: General requirements for traffic signs. {{|963 KB}}
  4. Standard Highway Signs manual, 2004 Metric edition 8.36 MB
  5. 1 2 "Standard Highway Signs manual, 2004 English edition" (PDF). (8.49 MB)
  6. 1 2 3 "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices 2003, Section 2B". Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  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 "". External link in |title= (help);  (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. Reaugh v. Cudahy Packing Co., 189 Cal. 335 (Supreme Court of California July 27, 1922) (“[The basic speed law] is but a reiteration of the rule, in statutory form, which has always been in force without regard to a statutory promulgation to the effect that drivers or operators of vehicles, and more particularly motor vehicles, must be specially watchful in anticipation of the presence of others at places where other vehicles are constantly passing, and where men, women, and children are liable to be crossing, such as corners at the intersections of streets or other similar places or situations where people are likely to fail to observe an approaching automobile.”).
  16. Riggs v. Gasser Motors, 22 Cal. App.2d 636, (California Court of Appeal September 25, 1937) (“It is common knowledge that intersecting streets in cities present a continuing hazard, the degree of hazard depending upon the extent of the use of the intersecting streets and the surrounding circumstances or conditions of each intersection. Under such circumstances the basic [speed] always governing.”).
  17. 1 2 Hershel Weinberger (19 February 1971). "Conjecture on the Visual Estimation of Relative Radial Motion" (PDF). Nature. 229: 562. doi:10.1038/229562a0.
  18. 1 2 3 Michael E. Maddox; Aaron Kiefer (September 2012). "Looming Threshold Limits and Their Use in Forensic Practice". Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. 50 (1): 700–704. doi:10.1177/1071181312561146. A number of laboratory researchers have reported values of the looming threshold to be in the range of 0.003 radian/sec. Forensic practitioners routinely use elevated values of the looming threshold, e.g., 0.005-0.008, to account for the complexity of real-world driving tasks. However, only one source has used data from actual vehicle accidents to arrive at a looming threshold – and that value, 0.0275 rad/sec, is an order of magnitude larger than that derived from laboratory studies. In this study, we examine a much broader range of real-world accident data to obtain an estimate of the reasonable upper end of the looming threshold. The results show a range of 0.0397 to 0.0117 rad/sec...
  19. Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 United States Reports 385, 391 (Supreme Court of the United States January 4, 1926) (“That the terms of a penal statute creating a new offense must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties is a well recognized requirement, consonant alike with ordinary notions of fair play and the settled rules of law, and a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.”).
  20. Joseph S. Lappin; Duje Tadin; Jeffrey B. Nyquist; Anne L. Corn (January 2009). "Spatial and temporal limits of motion perception across variations in speed, eccentricity, and low vision.". Journal of Vision. 9 (30): 1–14. doi:10.1167/9.1.30. Displacement thresholds for peripheral motion were affected by acuity limits for speeds below 0.5 degrees/s.
  21. A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (6th ed.). American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. 2011. ISBN 978-1560515081.
  22. 1 2 "C.V.C. § 22450(a)&(b)". State of California. The driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection shall stop at a limit line
  23. "Title 23, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603". US Government Publishing Office. The MUTCD approved by the Federal Highway Administrator is the national standard for all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 109(d) and 402(a)...Where State or other Federal agency MUTCDs or supplements are required, they shall be in substantial conformance with the National MUTCD.
  24. "3B.16.10". California MUTCD 2014. California Department of Transportation. p. 681. Chapter 3B.16.10: If used, stop and yield lines should be placed a minimum of 4 feet in advance of the nearest crosswalk line at controlled intersections...In the absence of a marked crosswalk, the stop line or yield line should be placed at the desired stopping or yielding point, but should not be placed more than 30 feet or less than 4 feet from the nearest edge of the intersecting traveled way.
  25. 1 2 "405.1". California Highway Design Manual. California Department of Transportation. 2012. pp. 400–14. Chapter 405.1: Set back for the driver of the vehicle on the crossroad shall be a minimum of 10 feet plus the shoulder width of the major road but not less than 15 feet.
  26. UK Department of Transport. Traffic Signs Manual, Chapter 3: Regulatory Signs, Section 3.2, 9 September 2008
  27. Great Britain. Report of the Traffic Signs Committee [Chairman, Sir Walter Worboys], 18 April 1963.
  28. "New traffic signs demonstrated on road at Birmingham." The Surveyor and Municipal Engineer, vol 122, p880, 1963.
  29. Rosenberg, Mike (30 September 2010). "Cheaper fines for right turn on red? No way, governor says". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  30. " definition". Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  31. "Bicycle-related Idaho Code" (PDF). Idaho Vehicle Code Title 49, Chapter 7. Idaho Transportation Department. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  32. "Bike Law University: Idaho Stop". League of American Wheelman. 22 August 2013.
  33. Maus, Jonathan. "Exclusive: BTA will go for "Idaho style" stop sign law". Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  34. "Idaho-style STOP law". San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  35. Thomas Miller v. State of Florida, Second District Court of Appeal of Florida, 2001-02-28. Retrieved 2008-10-03.
  36. 1 2 3 4 Signalfan. History of the Stop Sign in America. 1997.
  37. Greenbaum, Hilary; Rubinstein, Dana (9 December 2011). "The Stop Sign Wasn't Always Red". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  38. 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."
  39. "Répertoire des dispositifs de signalisation routière du Québec, Transports Québec". Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  40. "Canada, Quebec, Montreal, bilingual Stop sign Stock Photos". Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  41. 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
  42. Photo by user "imagesdistributioncanada"
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