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FHWA Home / Safety / Intersection / Intersection Safety Issue Briefs

Intersection Safety Issue Briefs

Issue Brief 4

STOP Signs

November 2009

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Purpose of a STOP Sign

The STOP sign is a regulatory sign that is used when traffic is required to stop. It is a red octagon that has a white border and large white capital letters that read STOP. At multiway stop intersections, where all approaches are controlled by STOP signs, an "ALL WAY" plaque is required below the stop sign to inform the driver that the intersection is an "all-way" stop intersection. Flashing beacons are sometimes used to supplement STOP signs, especially in rural areas.

Photo of a STOP sign at an all-way stop intersection. Below the STOP sign is a no left turn sign.
Figure 1: All Way Stop Sign

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) provides information on the design, application, and placement of STOP signs (R1-1). The purpose of STOP signs is to assign vehicular right of way at an intersection. If installed where warranted, STOP signs can be very effective. However, STOP signs can be an inconvenience to motorists and a potential safety issue and should only be used where warranted. STOP signs should not be used to control vehicle speeds.

Where Should a STOP Sign Be Installed?

STOP signs should be located where vehicles are required to stop, or as near to that point as possible. The sign may also be supplemented with a STOP line and/or the word STOP marked on the pavement as text.

Where there is a marked crosswalk, the STOP sign should be located approximately 4 feet in advance of the crosswalk line. A STOP sign shall be placed to the right of the lane it controls. Where there is a pattern of drivers missing the STOP sign on the intersection approach, placement of a supplementary STOP on the left-hand side of the roadway or in the median or overhead has been shown to reduce crashes. Where the visibility of the STOP sign on the approach to the intersection is insufficient to slow traffic and allow drivers to stop in ample time, placement of a STOP AHEAD symbol warning sign is required.

If two lanes of traffic exist on an approach, the STOP sign should be visible to each lane of traffic.

Under What Conditions Should a Two-Way STOP Control Be Installed?

Intersections should have one or more of the following conditions for a two-way STOP control to be installed:

The advantage of a two-way stop is that the major traffic flows do not have to stop and thus incur almost no delay at the intersection (i.e., the majority of the through traffic does not have to stop).

Under What Conditions Should a Four-Way (Multiway) STOP Control Be Installed?

Four-way STOP control is often used at the intersection of two roadways that exhibit approximately equal traffic volumes. As with other traffic-control devices, installation of a multiway stop should be based on an engineering study. The following criteria, as described in the 2003 edition of the MUTCD, should be considered:

Failure to Stop at Existing STOP Signs

Approximately 72 percent of fatal crashes occur at unsignalized intersections. Most often, the cause of the crash can be attributed to a driver failing to yield the right of way. When there is a history of drivers failing to heed STOP signs that are clearly visible, the following approaches could be considered:


Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Washington, DC, USA: Federal Highway Administration, 2003. Accessible via http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov.

A review of published research on multi-way stop intersections: http://www.ite.org/traffic/documents/AHA99B49.pdf.

Ellison, James W., P.E. Case Study: Failure to Stop at a Stop Sign: A Progressive Approach. http://www.ite.org/library/Intersection Safety/Ellison.pdf.

Neuman, Timothy R., R. Pfefer, K.L. Slack, K. Kennedy Hardy, D.W. Harwood, I.B. Potts, D.J. Torbic, and E.R. Kohlman Rabbani. NCHRP Report 500, Volume 5: A Guide for Addressing Unsignalized Intersection Collisions. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2003.

Intersection Safety Brief #8: Toolbox of Countermeasures and Their Potential Effectiveness to Make Intersections Safer. Federal Highway Administration/Institute of Transportation Engineers.

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Safe Roads for a Safer Future - Investment in roadway safety saves lives
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