Road signs: Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside no. 10/2020
- Internationally recognised signs for regulating road traffic
- Bicycle and motoring clubs put up the first modern road signs
- The town sign with a circle and an arrow was typical for the 1920s
- “33 Extras”: exhibits of motoring culture at the Mercedes-Benz Museum
Stuttgart. One-hundred and sixty vehicles and a total of 1500 exhibits are presented in the varied permanent exhibition of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. The “33 Extras” are a particular highlight: they can bring the history of personal mobility and motoring culture to life using details that are often surprising. The Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside newsletter series draws attention to the “33 Extras” and focuses on their background stories. Today’s issue is about the road sign meaning “No access for any motorised vehicles”.
10/33: Road signs
1 – Unequivocal information: which road will lead me to my desired destination? Does the coming stretch of road offer any particular dangers? Who has right of way? And how fast are we allowed to drive? Road signs provide answers to many such questions. Many of these signs show symbols that are well understood all over the world. The stop sign, for example, is one of the most internationally known signs of all.
2 – Self-help: sign posts and milestones are at least as old as the highways of antiquity. But bicycles and cars created new challenges: road signs that warned of hazardous situations and could be unmistakeably read by drivers travelling at full speed were now needed. From the 1880s on, bicycle clubs in Great Britain put up such signs while in Germany motoring clubs took it upon themselves to do this before 1925.
3 – Sign language: the motorcar helps to overcome boundaries, which is why internationally uniform rules for road signs make sense. Initially, in 1909, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Monaco, Austria-Hungary and Spain agreed on four uniform road signs. Each of these consisted of a blue circle with symbols and warned of uneven roads, bends, level crossings and junctions. Since 1968 there has been an international “Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals” to which almost 70 countries have so far acceded.
4 – Town & country: at the beginning of the 20th century there were various systems for traffic signs in Germany and it was mainly larger towns that attempted from the early days to make them uniform. A typical feature of the 1920s were the “town signs”, one of which is included in the Mercedes-Benz Museum: these signs consisted of a combination of a circular centre part with an arrow. If pointing to the side, the arrow indicated the direction of travel, and pointing upwards it was a warning sign. Stop or “restricted access” signs had an arrow pointing downwards.
5 – Motorsport: unequivocal communication between the pits and drivers is also essential in motorsports. At the “Solitude” race on 12 September 1926, Alfred Neubauer, the race director, made use of his own sign system for the first time. His system consisted of flags, signs and information boards to ensure precisely planned pit stops. Right up to the 1950s, he continued to perfect the system.
6 – Innovation: since its invention, the motorcar has undergone a rapid process of technical development and road signs are also subject to a process of innovation. The first generation of these signs was made of cast iron and this was followed by vitreous enamelled sheet iron or steel and, finally, foil-coated aluminium. Today, many signs on motorways and also in cities are displayed in digital form as variable message signs using LED technology.
7 – Care: road signs not only have to be installed but also maintained. Since the 1950s, the Mercedes-Benz Unimog, for example, has been used with special attachments to clean roadside signs.
8 – Digital progress: satellite navigation systems in cars can also display road signs on their screens so that drivers can quickly find their way around taking into account prohibitions and warnings. Since 2008, the Mercedes-Benz Speed Limit Assist has been actively helping drivers to recognise road signs on their route, and personalised systems such as MBUX and Mercedes me have been helping drivers navigate since 2018.
9 – The future: automatic road sign recognition is also a crucial aspect for the future of mobility. For decades, Mercedes-Benz has been researching autonomous driving, including the PROMETHEUS project from 1986 onwards. In 2013, the “Bertha” (S 500 Intelligent Drive) concept car drove autonomously in the footsteps of Bertha Benz from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Since 2016, it has been a permanent feature of the comprehensive Mercedes-Benz Classic vehicle collection.