The MUTCD: Creating Safe Roadways Nationwide
Updated: Mar 26
What would the nation look like if traffic control devices changed depending on which state you were driving in? Would you be able to drive as safely if stop signs were red in Maryland but blue in Ohio? Would you stop in time? Or would you miss the stop sign?
Consistent signage is crucial in keeping communities safe, no matter where you’re driving. Luckily, the Federal Highway Administration developed a manual of rules and regulations to guide state highway administrations on the use of signs and road markings. These guides are enacted across the United States and ensure that road users can drive, bike, or walk safely anywhere in the country.
What is the MUTCD?
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a document provided by the Federal Highway Administration. Well over 100-pages, it sets the rules and regulations for signage and road markings all across the United States. Everything from the exact colors of signs to the placement of barricades can be found in the MUTCD. Because of this, it’s a crucial component to the creation of high-quality signs for use on roadways, as well as safe roadways throughout the United States.
As the law governing all traffic control devices, it’s illegal to not comply with the MUTCD and specific state guidelines. Failure to comply with the MUTCD can result in the loss of federal funds (if applicable) and an increase in tort liability. As the MUTCD is amended and updated regularly, traffic control managers must be knowledgeable of all updates in order to comply. The most recent update occurred on August 30th, 2020. A clarification regarding “the flexibilities available for the use of channelizing devices at mid-block pedestrian crossings in conjunction with In-Street Pedestrian Crossing (R1-6 Series) Signs” was added to the manual.
The MUTCD also allows for the addition of new road safety technology to the handbook. These experimental devices go through a process in order to be added to the MUTCD. Any interested person can submit a request for experimentation. These experiments must be well-researched and submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) before beginning. Reports must be sent to the FHWA throughout the experimentation process and a cardinal rule is that the device must not create adverse conditions for the community during or after the experiment.
Who uses the MUTCD?
The MUTCD is used by any agency that is involved in creating safe roadways in the United States. This can include:
state and local highway agencies
owners of private roads open to public travel
the insurance industry, law enforcement agencies
incident management personnel
planning, construction, and engineering organizations
On top of this extensive list, the MUTCD is available online for any interested person to review. It’s encouraged for citizens to review the MUTCD, familiarize themselves with the rules governing their roads, and speak up if they find any signs that don’t comply with regulatory standards.
When Does Directional Traffic use the MUTCD?
At Directional Traffic, we rely on the MUTCD and state specific requirements to ensure that our traffic control signs meet local and nationwide standards.
In particular, we rely on the MUTCD and state specific requirements when creating signage, both permanent and temporary. Our Sign Shop must follow exact specifications for the colors and chromaticity of our signage. Generally, red is used for regulatory signs such as a stop sign, while yellow is used for warnings like a “left turn ahead” sign. Orange is for construction areas and a bright lime green for school zones. Coral, which is not seen too often, is used for incident management. In order to follow MUTCD regulations, just any shade of red won’t do. The Manual requires the use of an exact level of chromaticity (a specific color regardless of the sign’s reflective ability).
Each state also has their own specific requirements in correlation to the MUTCD. This is why we’re only approved to manufacture signs in Pennsylvania and Maryland. For example, every Maryland sign has to have its artwork approved before it can be manufactured. On top of that, the Maryland State Highway Administration inspects every sign before it can be used. In Pennsylvania, all signs have to be approved through Bulletin 15. Bulletin 15 is a list of prequalified materials that can be used to manufacture signs. These materials have been proven to hold up to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation standards and are accepted by certification on PennDOT construction projects. Pennsylvania also has a handbook of approved signs for the size and purpose of each sign in accordance with the type of road it is used on. For example, a Pennsylvania “Stop” sign is allowed to be 18 inches by 18 inches on a shared use path, but must be 48 by 48 on a freeway. Failure to follow both the MUTCD and state specific requirements is akin to breaking the law. The signs won’t be approved for use.
But the MUTCD isn’t just used by our traffic control managers to create road-safe signs. It’s also used to create work zones that follow the rules and regulations in such a way as to keep communities safe. When designing a work zone, the MUTCD guides our managers’ decisions on sign placement and the devices used. This keeps work zones consistent across the country so drivers know what to expect, whether they’re driving in California or Maine.
Our traffic control employees also rely on the MUTCD when designing safe work zones in a specified environment. The MUTCD has different specifications for school areas, highways, low-traffic areas, etc. For example, school areas require the use of signage regarding increased fines and reduced speed areas. These signs have specific requirements for placement and the number of signs needed for each direction of travel.
Work with an Experienced Traffic Control Company
It’s important to work with a traffic control company that is familiar with the MUTCD and follows all rules and regulations exactly as written. Following these regulations is not only the law, it’s also crucial to creating safe work zones and roadways.
Directional Traffic prides itself on our traffic control managers’ knowledge of the MUTCD and state specific requirements. All of our permanent and temporary signage follows MUTCD color, material, and placement regulations. Our work zones are designed to follow the Federal Highway Administration’s guidance, regardless of whether your project is in a school zone, low-traffic road, or highway.
At Directional Traffic, we believe that community safety matters. Creating high-quality signage that follows the MUTCD guidelines is just one way we prioritize road safety.