Traffic signs are used to inform and warn all participants in traffic. Old Rome was the first one who used traffic signs - milestones marking the distance of certain locations to Rome (and we all know 'All roads lead to Rome.'). These simple signs were practically the only traffic signs for many centuries. Additional signs informing about the direction of certain places and other informational signs were placed at crossroads and other important locations.
Only after Middle Age when traffic improved (roughly after the discovery of America) the speed of traffic improved so much some kind of standardization was needed. But first road signs (warnings about dangerous curves and steep hills were among first) were still hand made, their dimensions vary, colors and placements were not always logic, ... At the end of the 19th century, different organizations related to the traffic were formed and they started different campaigns aiming at additional safety at more and more hectic traffic.
Many steps were made before we came to this point where traffic signs are covered with illuminated plastic sheets and the construction of the pole and the sign is mounted on the slip base to reduce the possibility of injuries of drivers and passengers in the case of an accident.
Pedestrian crossing ahead
Road narrows ahead
Road with priority traffic
Speed hump ahead
Two way traffic ahead
Slippery when wet
Of course not all road signs share the same shape.
Here is the meaning of shapes:
round: warning, order
octagon; prohibition, stop
diamond: caution, warning
triangle (upside down): yield
triangle (equilateral): warning
rectangular hazard : information, regulation
crossbuck: railroad crossing
Bicycles only road sign
Direction left only
No bicycles road sign
No motorcycles and cars
No motor vehicles road sign
Colors have more or less standardized meanings as well. Here are their meanings:
red: stop, demand, prohibit
black and white: regulation
brown: recreation and culture
End of motorway section
End of regulated highway
A few fun facts about roads and traffic signs:
- A first electric traffic sign was installed on August 5, 1914, in Cleveland Ohio. It was not the first attempt to control traffic with lights. They tried that in London already in the 1860s but it was very soon.
- First electric traffic signs had only green and red lights. Yellow as a warning was not added until 1920 in Detroit.
- There is at least one scientific evidence to prefer red light for a stop. It has the longest wavelength what means it can be seen from farther distance giving the driver the fastest possible signal to use the breaks.It's hard to say how will the traffic light of the future look like. There are several experimental systems in use already. One is displaying news while the lights are red, trying to keep the attention of the drivers on the road, not on their smartphones. And there are some things that are trying to communicate with smart systems in cars, information about the speeds needed to avoid red light in the next crossroads.
Give way (after 150 m) roadsign
Loose stones on the road
Possible road queues
Wild animals road sign
Did you know?
- The line at the middle of the road, which was inspired by a milk car, was first made by Edward N. Hines (1870-1938). One of the other innovations was snow removal from public roads.
- Carmel, Indiana, USA, replaced the majority of their traffic signs with roundabouts. Maintenance costs are now up to US $ 180,000 per year, traffic accidents down by 40% and fatal accidents by 90%.
- Michael O'Leary, a millionaire, and CEO of airline Ryanair established his own taxicab company to get legal permission to use lanes, thus avoiding traffic jams. This company has only one cab so he can only use Michael O'Leary. Rich Russians are using a similar trick - they charge several hundred dollars per hour.
- Right-hand traffic was introduced to Europe by Napoleon. There are two reasons for that: to annul already established, which is seen to be too aristocratic, and to avoid sword fighting on horseback.
- Finland calculates fine traffic according to the income of the rule-breaker. This leader has been a leader in the management of the CEO who was speeding with 75 km per hour in 30 km per hour.
If you need public domain images of road signs, try this address: