Long before rush-hour traffic, humans were using well-traveled roads and trading routes to get from A to B quickly and efficiently. What better way to celebrate a military triumph than by paving a new road? Rome built its famous highways to consolidate its expanding power. At the height of the Roman Empire, the Caesars ordered the construction of 4,400-pound stone markers called milestones. These were numbered and placed at specific intervals along the 62,000 miles of Roman roads.
Early Traffic Signs
Soon after horseless carriages made their debut, drivers were getting lost because of the lack of directional signs on new roads. Drivers formed clubs as early as 1899 and made it their mission to place and maintain helpful street signs. Some clever entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to point drivers toward their own establishments. In 1915, the very first stop sign appeared in Detroit. Interestingly, this was one year after the first electric traffic signal, which was erected in Cleveland.
Standardizing Traffic Signs
In 1922, representatives from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota toured several states in order to generate ideas for uniform signs and street markings. They made it their goal to develop a system that matched unique shapes to specific messages:
* Round – Railroad crossing
* Octagon – Stop sign
* Diamond – Curve ahead
* Square – Caution or attention
* Rectangle – Mileage and speed limit signs
This would make signs more helpful in the nighttime, especially as drivers could identify shapes before reading the signs’ words.
Traffic Safety Today
Traffic warning signals and signs are continually advancing. Modern technology allows computerized, electronic signs to give drivers timely detour info, construction work advisories, and other important traffic news. They can even tell you how long it will take to get to a specific location in current conditions. At the same time, pedestrians who are disabled or have difficulty reading benefit from “talking signs” now found at many crosswalks and intersections. Bicycle lanes and HOV lanes also require unique, consistent signage.
Future Traffic Safety
Luckily for us, the Department of Transportation constantly updates the requirements for traffic warning signals and signs to make sure all states are using the same signs, shapes, words, letters, and colors. The good people behind road safety must have their worries about what the future will bring. Especially if that future involves flying cars and hover-signs. But unlike the driving pioneers of 100 years ago, we can expect the signs and signals of the future to match across town!
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