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MUTCD Signage: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is MUTCD?

A.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a manual published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to ensure uniformity of traffic control devices used in the country. The manual provides information about the design, application, and placement of as well as the standards, guidance, options, and support provisions for traffic control devices such as signs, signals, and pavement markings. 

Approved as the national standard for designing, applying, and planning traffic control devices, the MUTCD aims at promoting highway safety and efficiency on the US streets and highways.

Q. Does the MUTCD apply to all US roads and streets, private roads included?

A.

Yes. The MUTCD is the national standard for all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel, as stated in Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603. Private roads open to public travel, such as those within shopping centers, also fall under the ambit of the MUTCD standards. 

Q. Does the MUTCD install traffic control devices on highways?

A.
No. The MUTCD only provides standards and guidance regarding traffic control devices and is not responsible for installing these devices. Individual state and local highway agencies are responsible for selecting, installing, operating, and maintaining all traffic control devices on all public roadways, interstate and U.S. numbered systems included.

Q. Are state MUTCDs valid?

A.

Yes, state MUTCDs are valid and identified in Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations. After a new national MUTCD edition is issued or any amendments are made in the national MUTCD, all states have three routes to choose from within two years. They can adopt the new or revised national MUTCD edition to be applicable to state traffic control devices. 

Alternatively, they can choose to adopt the national MUTCD along with a state supplement as long as it is in substantial conformance with the new or revised national MUTCD. The third option lets the states adopt a state MUTCD provided it conforms with the new or revised national MUTCD to a substantial extent.

Q. Who enforces the MUTCD provisions on private roads?

A.

While the MUTCD provisions apply to private roads open to public travel, the FHWA does not mandate state and/or local highway agencies to have specific authority or enforcement responsibility for MUTCD-compliance of traffic control devices on private roads. Owners or parties responsible for such private roads should use MUTCD-compliant devices to comply with other applicable State Manuals. Non-compliance may expose the owners to increased tort liability. 

In certain jurisdictions, the state or local governments may prescribe some approval requirements over private road traffic control devices, particularly in the development approval process and in building and occupancy permits.

Q. Are private parking lot signs required to be MUTCD compliant?

A.

No. The MUTCD does not apply to parking areas, whether private or public. Nevertheless, parking lot signs should be designed and used in accordance with MUTCD general principles and standards for efficacy and safety. This can limit potential violations by facilitating easy identification of the devices owing to standard and familiar design.

Q. What are the types of MUTCD signs?

A.

MUTCD Section 2A.05 classifies signs into three categories based on their functions — regulatory signs, warning signs, and guide signs. Regulatory signs communicate traffic laws or regulations, while warning signs alert about a situation that might not be readily apparent. 

MUTCD Guide signs are used to communicate route designations, destinations, directions, distances, services, points of interest, and other geographical, recreational, or cultural information. These include conventional road guide signs such as route signs, distance signs, parking signs, etc., covered in Chapter 2D. These also include freeways and expressways guide signs like interchange signs, carpool signs, recreational signs, and more covered in Chapter 2E.

Q. Are there any MUTCD design requirements that apply to signs in general?

A.

Standards specific to the design of signs are covered in MUTCD Section 2A.06. At the most basic level, MUTCD signs are required to be legible by their intended readers and understandable in time sufficient enough for an adequate response. Traffic control signs should enjoy high daytime as well as nighttime visibility. These should carry “adequately sized letters, symbols, or arrows, and a short legend for quick comprehension by a road user approaching a sign”. 

The section further provides information about the legend requirements and design uniformity in terms of shape, color, dimensions, legends, borders, and illumination or retro-reflectivity. Standardization in terms of symbols, colors, and words, and the requirement to adhere to the provisions of the manual are also covered. 

Information about restrictions and instructions about using pictographs and a prohibition on the display of internet addresses and email addresses, with applicable exceptions, is also provided. Sign design information for different sign categories is covered in their respective MUTCD chapter. 

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