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Features of Safety Signs

December 2, 2019

The Federal Highway Administration has been working on making signs more uniform and safety-oriented for drivers since the 1950s. If you’ve ever wondered why every city in America has the same kind of safety signs, it’s due to compliance with the FHA’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Here are some of the features used in safety signs and the thinking behind them.

National Standards and State Variations

MUTCD sets the national standards for displaying and installing traffic control devices in the United States, while each state must conform to these requirements. At the same time, each state can add its own manual for drivers within the state to follow. The main purpose behind standardization on basic themes is so that travelers don’t have to research every detail about traffic laws when they cross statelines. Most of these standards are designed to promote safe driving.

Since signs cost money, in order for a safety sign to be posted it needs to fulfill an actual need in the target area. Once it’s posted, it must be visible to drivers and pedestrians in an obvious way, both day or night. The sign must also convey the intended meaning and allow drivers time to respond. This means the sign must be large enough or posted at a certain distance to prepare drivers. Finally, the sign must command respect in order to be effective.

How Signs Gain Respect

The main reason drivers respect road signs is because they are usually posted for a good reason. A stop sign at a busy intersection has the obvious purpose of keeping traffic orderly. But if over time that intersection becomes quiet without much traffic, drivers may see the stop sign as meaningless and might not even stop for it. The same concept is true with safety signs that warn of dangers that are perceived to not exist.

Posting safety signs only when necessary is the key to keep drivers respecting such signs. When clear messages and useful signs become dirty, faded, vandalized or hard to read, drivers may assume local officials no longer care about enforcing traffic laws in that location. That’s why it’s important for local traffic control officials to stay on top of sign placements and replace or restore damaged signs.

Keys to Effective Safety Signs

Effective safety signs must not be part of a cluster of messages in one place. The more messages a driver sees, the less likely any of them will paint a picture of safety. The messages should be simple and to the point, such as “Slow Down” or “Children At Play.” Using two of three words or simple stick figure images helps communicate a message instantly, even from a distance.

Most drivers learn from experience that sign shapes and colors communicate louder than words. A yellow or orange sign means caution and serves as an advisory to drivers, whereas red octogon signs always mean stop, even if the lettering is worn. Other regulatory signs, such as speed limit signs, are usually white on black or black on white rectangles.

Safety signs are also posted by businesses that use dangerous machinery to alert workers and visitors to keep a distance. Machines that cut wood, for example, generate dust clouds that are harmful to breathe. Common safety signs at manufacturing facilities warn people to wear proper eye and ear protection. Standards for workplace signs are set by ANSI and OSHA.

Unfortunately, new standards often go unnoticed by businesses, leading many firms to rely on outdated signs. Contact Zumar at our Arizona, California or Washington locations to learn more about safety compliance.

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