ROAD SIGNS (A brief history)
Roads and their accompanying signs date all the way back to the Roman Empire who were the first civilization to build roads. Via Appia, or the Appian Way was the first and constructed in 312BC. Numbered stone markers (the first milestones) were made by the Romans and placed along the roads at specific intervals for travellers to make note of the distance still to be travelled.
The first Traffic Regulation Act came into being in Europe in 1686 by the decree of King Peter II of Portugal. It was in the late 1870s and early 1880s that the first road signs were widely erected. These pertained to riders of high or ‘ordinary’ bicycles. England alone saw the erection of 4 000 warning signs. One such sign carried the design of a skull-and-crossbones (so cool) to warn cyclists of steep hills.
Enter the engineering brilliance of Carl Benz and Henry Ford who birthed a mode of transport so efficient and popular that road signs became a vital necessity. The first stop sign (a two-by-two-foot sheet of metal with black lettering) was installed in Detroit in 1915. It was only in the 1920s when automobile traffic increased that road signs started to become more uniform in appearance.
Signs with a white background are permanent whereas signs with yellow backgrounds are temporary.
Warning signs are triangular with a red border and black pictogram that portrays the danger or obstruction ahead.
Speed limiting signs are circular with a red border and the speed limitation shown in black.
Today, the different colours and shapes of road signs help to warn, inform and regulate drivers and pedestrians.
In South Africa, we make heavy use of pictorial signs (pictures rather than words) in order to simplify understanding across all language barriers.