In every country, the shape of the sign is the same. Octagon. It’s probably the only thing most people remember from geometry. “What’s an Octagon?” “A Chuck Norris movie?” True, but in this case, it’s the shape of a STOP sign.

It’s always red, with white letters (post-1954, anyway). In most cases, even though English is not the dominant language in a given country, EVERYONE knows what STOP means. Except for the idiots who are usually in front of me at the intersection.

Quoting from History of the Stop Sign:

Originating in Detroit, Michigan in 1915, the earliest stop sign had black letters on a white background and was somewhat smaller in size than the one today.  The smaller sizes of stop signs were initially most common, in that they did not require larger punch presses.

Due to confusion of drivers, the American Association of Highway Officials (AASHO) met in 1922 to standardize the stop sign.  Attempting to design a unique sign to prevent uncertainty, the AASHO devised a unique octagonal shape that would alert drivers to stop. In 1924 the stop sign was changed to black on yellow by the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety (NCSHS), which was the prevailing color until 1954.  They regulated the signs to be mounted two or three feet above the ground. Another group (the predecessor to the MUTCD) had similar, but not identical ideas. The 1935 MUTCD regulation defined that stop signs should be octagonal, but with red or black letters on a yellow background.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) stop sign was altered eight times between 1935 and 1971, generally regarding mounting height or reflectorization. However, the most significant change was the 1954 alteration to white on red color. The modern US stop sign, white on red, mounted 2.1 meters (7 ft) above ground, 30″ long with a 3/4″ white line around the edge, was passed into law in 1971 – although 24″ stop signs are also allowed.

English speaking and European Union stop signs use the word “STOP”. Of course, many non-English speaking countries prefer to use the word in their own language on the front of a stop sign. Most countries have adopted the red octagonal shape, like China, Canada, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico, South Korea, and many others, but there are exceptions, like Japan, which uses a triangular sign. China’s old stop sign was triangular as well, but they too have adopted the octagonal form, simply displaying the Chinese word for stop (pronounced ting). This sign is almost identical to the one used in Taiwan. In Hong Kong, like many countries, English is situated on top of the other more common language.

In Canada, however, there are several different signs used. In Quebec, the French word for stop is written on face of the stop sign, while in Nunavut, they use the word in the Inuktitut language. “PARE”, a Spanish and Portuguese word for stop, is used in Brasil, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Colombia. In Mexico, however, “ALTO” is used.

Although stop signs are not used at every intersection, they are extremely important because they control traffic in dangerous areas. Stop signs require the driver to make a brief and temporary stop, quick glance, and then proceed carefully. This can possibly prevent an accident from occurring. As a result, it is imperative that the sign is comprehensible to everyone of any country, which is why many countries have adopted the format of the modern US stop sign, in terms of shape, size, and color.

Further – and this boggled my already-loosened brain – there is actually a “convention” for stop signs. The Geneva Convention covers war and stuff. Well…

The Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals [let’s pause in stunned amazement that there was actually a CONVENTION for this… ] proposed standard stop sign diameters of 0.6, 0.9 or 1.2 metres. UK and New Zealand stop signs are 750, 900 or 1200 mm, according to sign location and traffic speeds. In the United States, stop signs have a size of 75 cm across opposite flats of the red octagon, with a 20mm white border. The white uppercase letters forming the stop legend are 25 cm tall. Larger signs of 90 cm (36 in) with 30 cm (12 in) legend and 25 mm (⅞ in) border are used on multilane expressways. Regulatory provisions exist for extra-large 120 cm (48 in) signs with 40 cm (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 60 cm (24 in) with a 20 cm (8 in) legend and 15 mm (⅝ in) border. The metric units specified in the US regulatory manuals are rounded approximations of English units, not exact conversions. Field, legend, and border are all retroreflective.

Damned Austrians…

So, now that we know what a STOP sign is supposed to look like, what are we legally bound to do when we see it?

Well, we are NOT supposed to perform a “California Stop.” According to the oft-quoted, the “California Stop” (AKA The California Rolling Stop) is:

The act of not completely stopping at a stop sign or a right hand turn, but rather ‘rolling’ through it by slowing down some.

What I really like about their definition is their “Would you please use it in a sentence?” turn:

“Nice California Stop, asshole”

If you would prefer a more specific definition, says:

A rolling stop is a term used in traffic law to refer to when a vehicle fails to come to a complete stop. A complete stop is when there is no forward momentum and the needle on the speedometer is at 0. In a rolling stop, the car wheels are still in motion and the car is moving at less than 5 m.p.h. Failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign is a traffic violation governed by state laws, which vary by state. The longer the stop, the more discernable it is to the naked eye, giving a motorist a better chance of avoiding a ticket.

So, while I would never advocate making a California Stop (I’m far too paranoid, fearing Johnny Law is parked immediately behind the STOP sign is his oh-so-slender law enforcement vehicle), I also do not advocate the “Negative California Stop” (NCS – my own term).

Logic would tell you that an NCS would be a non-rolling stop at a STOP sign (well, I suppose logic could also tell you that an NCS was the act of shifting your vehicle into reverse once you came to a STOP sign, but for now we’re going with my definition).

MY definition of an NCS is one where the way-previously-aforementioned idiot in front of me not only doesn’t roll through the STOP sign – he/she sits at said STOP sign for an idiotically-over-extended period of time.

How long SHOULD you sit at a STOP sign? We turn again to one of the many online resources where people ask such questions (presumably NOT while they are actually in their vehicle, sitting at said STOP sign – more on that in a moment).

Q: Is there a time limit of how many seconds I have to stop at the stop sign?

A: No.

“The law states you have to come to a complete stop, it doesn’t specify how long you have to remain stopped for,” Washintgon State Patrol spokesman Dan McDonald said. “After stopping you may proceed as long as there’s no crossing traffic and/or you have the right-of-way.”

State-to-state, the laws vary. In Georgia:

Except when directed to proceed by a police officer, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line or, if there is no stop line, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is no crosswalk, at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. After stopping, the driver shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways.

However, there is no stated minimum stopping time. Evidently, that’s the source of many traffic citations, as well as reasons drivers can get out of said citations. It’s all subjective. You can’t time it with a stopwatch. All it apparently requires is the previously-mentioned complete halt of forward momentum (i.e., your speedometer reads 0).

So, in my usual convoluted-and-much-hyphenated style, I finally come ‘round to the point of today’s lesson. YOU DON’T NEED TO SIT AT A STOP SIGN FOR 10 SECONDS OR MORE!!!

  1. You stop.
  2. You look in all directions.
  3. If it doesn’t appear someone else is going to barrel into you, you go.

If you can’t do all of the above within 2-3 seconds, you should return your Edsel to the garage from whence you departed, never to put foot to accelerator again. Use public transportation and save lives and prevent the cost of blood pressure medication from skyrocketing.

A contributing factor to this phenomenon, aside from sheer incompetence behind the wheel, is the smart phone. You have been told not to text while driving. Fine. Unfortunately, you assume that it’s OK to text while sitting at a red light (see a previous blog entry), or at today’s subject, a STOP sign.

You neglect, as always, to check the rearview mirror to see if your smartphone-finger-banging will impede anyone else’s progress, and so you thumb your way through a message to Snookums about how much last night meant to you, and that next time you will bring along smaller-denomination currency to leave on the dresser. You can barely spell as it is, let alone using your Twinkie-padded (or, not to leave out our female motorists, your ridiculously-long-Vietnamese-da Vinci-painted nails – you do know that no heterosexual male finds ludicrously-overgrown fingernails attractive, don’t you?) uncoordinated digits to spell out your vehicular Ode on a Grecian Urn.

We (using the royal “We” in this case) will repeat the earlier-blogged admonition for those who are not following along, as they should. While in your vehicle – not just while you’re driving – don’t use the cell phone for anything other than vocal conversations, and only then if you have a working Bluetooth headset that keeps you from shoulder-wedging said phone while steering, applying makeup, and chain smoking.

This should prevent you from causing unnecessarily-protracted delays at our friend, Mr STOP Sign.

Of course, there will still be those of you afraid to get out on the road – yet you do so anyway – and therefore have to creep to a stop from some 50 yards away from the impending sign. Then, even with no one at any of the opposing other signs, spend an inordinate amount of time looking off into the distance for those rogue vehicles that just might come barreling towards you at 3MPH. We’ve talked about you before, and there is little we can do about you, except hunt you down and take away your keys.

If I ran the zoo, that’s what we’d do…