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Every driver has encountered a yield sign at some point. Driving cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicle requires knowing what common road signs mean. Here is how a cop in Oklahoma invented the yield sign while working one day. Find out more about the yield sign meaning and the difference between a yellow yield sign and a red one.

What is the difference between a yellow yield sign and a red yield sign?

According to, the international standard for the yield sign is an inverted triangle with a yellow or white background and a red border. Some older signs that have not been updated yet might be yellow. Modern yield signs are typically red and white, sometimes accompanied by a yellow sign with more information.

The story of how the yield sign was invented is more interesting than that, though. According to The Oklahoman, Clinton Riggs developed the sign while working as a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He attended Chicago’s Northwestern Traffic Institute and was instructed to create a solution for a real-life problem. At the time, many drivers would roll through intersections. While a yield law existed, it wasn’t acknowledged by drivers.

Riggs proposed a road sign that said “yield” to help intersection traffic slow down when necessary. He noted that this would provide some liability for drivers who did not stop and would speed through intersections without a stop sign. Even without knowing the meaning, drivers slowed down and drove more cautiously.

Why is the yield sign a triangle?

The yield sign was triangular to catch the driver’s attention, but other folks in the course did not appreciate the suggestion. A triangular yellow sign telling people to yield? Why would that work? He let the idea go then and eventually left the country to serve in World War II. After returning to the Tulsa Police Department post-war, Riggs decided to dive back into his sign idea.

Riggs enlisted the help of his work associate Paul Rice, a Tulsa City engineer. The pair came up with a simple prototype of the sign that was yellow because it was the easiest color to see. It was made of everyday materials and required no electronics, which made it more accessible. There was no reason to change anything within the intersection, another benefit. Since the yield law already existed, nothing needed to be changed with the rules and regulations. Riggs’ idea was simple and easy.

Riggs and Rice decided to install two prototype signs in an intersection without any actual approval in 1950. This intersection was at the corner of First Street and Columbus Avenue in Tulsa, known as one of the more dangerous intersections in the town. After installing the sign, the pair sat and waited to see what had happened.

Sometimes you have to make your own rules

A yield sign in Pennsylvania
A yield sign at the roundabout | Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Drivers read the sign and obeyed it, slowing down at the intersection. After that, the idea caught on pretty quickly. Since Riggs had been in traffic enforcement for years, he knew firsthand how his vision could benefit people.

After collecting some data, Riggs proved that the signs helped. The county coroner confirmed that the signs had helped, too. By the time 1954 rolled around, the yield sign was added to the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

You can still find such signage at intersections and while getting on highways. It is also used in school zones and pedestrian crossings to remind drivers to slow down. While the origin is a bit funny, such signage has positively impacted traffic safety.


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