THE HISTORY OF ROAD SIGN AND ITS IMPORTANCE
By: Siti Zubaidah binti Muhamad Zafir from Faculty Of Science And Technology, Islamic Science University of Malaysia.
Road signs are no foreign sight that we see in our daily life as we drive along the road. It is a common sight around the busy metropolis and an open highway. We can also see various types of road signs in rural areas and small towns. They are usually placed on short vertical poles at the side of the roads or above the roads on very long horizontal poles. Also known as traffic signs, they were invented to administer instructions and provide information to users. According to an article written by Aguilar M. back in 2015, road signs are meant to maintain the order of the traffic flow and to warn users of upcoming hazards . It plays a very extensive role and very beneficial to a human’s life.
Traffic congestion is a bad situation that requires a drastic control measure in ensuring the safety of road users. It may seem strange to the modern world that traffic congestion happened as early as Roman Empire hence the first road signs were used in ancient Rome. Based on the article written by email@example.com, the Romans took and ran the idea of roads that can be traced back to the Bronze Age. A system of roads, tunnels and bridges were built from Portugal to Constantinople allowing the Roman’s army to move quickly and bring in more people and goods. Via Appia or known as Appian Way was the first road that were built in 312 B.C. At regular intervals, the Romans placed milestones, stated the person in charge of maintaining that portion of the road and completed the repairs. Erected mile markers at intersections were also done by the Romans to label the specific distance to Rome. Even though the people in ancient Rome travelled by horseback, carts or by walking, this mark the first invention of road signs that were invented during the Roman Empire as complex highway systems was not needed to cater heavy traffic congestion.
Roman road systems were still applied during the Middle Ages, a period that describes Europe after Rome fell dated in 476 A.D. to the 14th century. Back then, in order to direct or navigate people to their destinations or towns, various signs were put up at crossroads. According to Wikipedia, in 1686, the first known Traffic Regulation Act in Europe is established by King Peter II of Portugal. This act perceives the placement of arrangement signs in the narrowest streets of Lisbon, explaining which traffic should back up to give way. At Salvador street, in the neighborhood of Alfama, one of these signs still exists. But after the fall of Rome, the roads were no longer maintained hence making it difficult for transports to move. However, Europe transportation systems had improved because of the discovery of the New World. People, despite their social status¸ started to travel and leave their comfort zones. They would travel either by using covered wagon, riding horses or by foot. But the problem arose when goods transported by wagon slowed down horses. According to firstname.lastname@example.org, it had caused the travelling process to become slower.
But the problem was solved by the invention of bicycles and automobiles invented in the 19th century that helped travelling to become faster and consume less time. Hence, a better road signs need to be developed in order to ensure the safety of people. Based on the information I gathered from Wikipedia the first modern road signs erected on a wide scale were designed for riders of high or “ordinary” bicycles in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Fast and silent. These are the words that can describe these machines that were erected. However, these machines were difficult to control. The riders usually travelled a long distance and preferred to use unfamiliar roads. Hence, cycling organizations or groups started to put up signs to warn potential dangers mainly steep hills ahead rather than labelling the distance or the pointing the directions of places for other users. This act contributed to the sign type that defines “modern” traffic signs. The evolution of automobiles emboldened more complex signage systems using more than just text-based notices. The Italian Touring Club had devised one of the first modern-day road sign systems in 1895. Other clubs had also copied suit by putting up their own signs or by using colored bands to wrap the utility poles for other drivers to follow.
Trex E. stated in his article that contending auto clubs all wanted to put up their own signs on main roads, and there was nothing to halt each one from displaying its signs. This competition between rivalry clubs had caused the roads to turn into confusing messes hence there was a need for standardization to be set in order to prevent more confusion. By 1900, a proposal for standardization of road signage was considered by a Congress of the International League of Touring Organization in Paris. The British government had introduced four national signs in 1903. The signs are based on shape, however at the 1908 International Road Congress in Paris, the basic patterns for most traffic signs were introduced. In 1909, four pictorial symbols were chosen to be use as pictorial symbols and were agreed by nine European government. The symbols were chosen to indicate bump, curve, intersection and grade-level railroad crossing. The European road sign system were developed as a result of an intensive work on international road signs that happened between 1926 and 1949. Both Britain and the United States had developed their own respective road sign systems by adopting and modifying other countries systems. The United Kingdom imposed a version of the European road signs in 1964 while North America began using symbols and graphics mixed in with English in their signage.
The invention and development of road signs throughout the years surely is important. During driving, there are elements that will threat the safety of not only the driver but also the passengers and other road users. This is what we call hazard. The hazardous elements might be an existing danger from the surrounding or it might happen suddenly. Hence, drivers need to have good observation and driving skills at all times. This will help the drivers to stay calm and be able to deal with hazard during unexpected circumstances. According to Malaysia Road Transport Department, in general hazards are divided into three parts, namely:
i. Physical characteristics such as junction, roundabout and curves.
ii. Risks arising from the position and movement of other road users
iii. Problems arising from various road surfaces and weather conditions such as slippery roads, bumpy roads or heavy cross wind condition.
The Malaysia Road Transport Department stated that all of drivers in Malaysia must always comply with traffic signals at all times. In addition, the designated highway codes must be complied with to ensure the safety of drivers and other road users. Therefore, it is very important to learn, know and understand the meanings of each signs of traffic used on the road as they have been categorized according to the Road Traffic Rules 1959 (Traffic Signs (size, color and type) Rules 1959). The traffic signal function is to deliver information to road users clearly and can be visible, understandable for the users to take appropriate action. These signs and signals are installed to organize traffic movements and keep road users safe. These signs and signals must be adhered even if there is no visible danger ahead.
Recognizing and adhering to traffic signals is a very important practice. These signals are usually taught during primary school level in order to teach children the uses and importance of road signs. Through road education that was taught at the early stage, children will be able to know that there are various risks and dangers that can be found on the road. They can apply that knowledge to protect themselves while they are using the road. In addition, they can also remind their parents if their parents violate traffic rules administered by the authorities. In Malaysia, new drivers will also be taught on road safety that are conducted by their respective driving schools in order to remind them safety measures that need to be taken while driving.
From the discussions above, one may conclude that road signs play a very significant role in human’s life. Without these signs, no one will know how fast to drive, what way to drive down a street, whether or not there is an upcoming danger to the roads being driven on, or whether they are approaching a merge. That would have been complete chaos. Road signs help minimize the number of car accidents, help ensure pedestrians’ safety, and help drivers learn how to interact in a non-verbal way with other drivers that keeps us all safe. It can be hazardous to neglect them. Instead of words, most signs use images, so that they are easy to understand and can be interpreted by people who speak a variety of languages. For this reason, it is important that people know what each image represents, and that people can use it to for their driving experience.
Since the role of road signs is important in keeping the order of road users, the signs need to be well-maintained and the area used to place these signs need to be well-kept too. Especially the signs that are by the side of a bushy road where the signs are covered by a branch of leaves. This is to ensure that the signs can be well-visible to the users’ eyes. If there are any problems that is regarding the road signs, people should make a report so the problem can be fixed. Hence, road casualties can be avoided and enhancing road safety measures.
- Aguilar M. 25 May 2015. “Road Signs: Your key to responsible driving”. Autoindutriya.com. https://www.autoindustriya.com/features/road-signs-your-key-to-responsible-driving.html
- Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan Malaysia. 2018. Kurikulum Pendidikan Pemandu (KPP) Kelas D Automatik. Melaka: Akademi Pengangkutan Jalan Malaysia.
- n.a. 30 January 2021. “Traffic Signs”. Wikipedia Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Traffic_sign&action=history.
- Trex E. 30 December 2010. “The Road to Street Sign Standardization”. Mental Floss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/26748/road-street-sign-standardization.