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The Spread of LED Traffic Signs

December 26, 2019

Throughout the 21st century, city governments across America have been switching to LED traffic signs and street lights due to brightness, durability and efficiency. Not only are these lights highly energy-efficient compared with conventional lights, they are cost-efficient as well, saving cities millions of dollars. The brightness alone makes city streets safer at night. Another advantage to LED lights is they are more eco-friendly. The advent of embedded LED traffic signs has further led to greater driver awareness.

Widespread Upgrading to LED

The adoption of LED traffic lights across the United States has been a major priority of local governments the past decade since the “Great Recession.” It’s part of an overall national trend even among consumers to reduce electricity demand, as LED bulbs simply shine brighter, last longer and reduce waste. Various types of LED traffic signs now exist, many of which are solar-powered. These highway signs display messages to motorists such as “No Right Turn” or “Reduce Speed Ahead.”

In 2012, a new federal law took into effect raising national light bulb efficiency standards, as new light bulbs have been designed to use 28 percent less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs. At first many people replaced old bulbs with more efficient halogen bulbs before LED sales began to surge. By 2017, LEDs outsold all other types of lights for the first time, according to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

Several major cities and small towns have taken advantage of the multiple benefits of this technology. Chicago has 2,900 intersections and had installed 1,000 new LED traffic lights by 2011, funded by the City and one of America’s largest electric utilities, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd). Local officials launched the project in 2004 as part of the Chicago’s initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 30 percent by 2020. The city estimates its energy cost savings are $2.5 million per year.

LED Sign Advantages

One of the key selling points to LED traffic signs is that they can communicate more directly to drivers in real-time than traditional traffic control devices. There’s also less maintenance involved once they are installed, as LED lights can last up to 100,000 hours vs. 8,000 hours for incandescent bulbs. A key safety aspect to LEDs is that they make intersections safer with brighter lights, which causes drivers to pay more attention to traffic control signs.

A new innovation in recent years for manufacturers of traffic control devices is to embed LEDs in highway warning and regulatory signs. A common design has been to outline the sign, words or image with LEDs that are either static or flashing. While LEDs are gaining prominence throughout the business and consumer worlds, they are particularly ideal for traffic signs and lights since they operate 24/7 while saving energy at a 6:1 ratio compared with traditional lights.

Embedded LED traffic signs are effective in locations with limited visibility and places where drivers have failed to recognize an intersection, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Placed at stop signs, these embedded lights can help prevent drivers from running stop signs due to low visibility factors. Helping drivers comply with regulations helps reduce accidents in the process.


The era of omnipresent incandescent lights is ending. The LED era has arrived as governments move toward sustainable solutions and technology that improves road safety. Embedded LED traffic signs are becoming more widespread as well. Contact Zumar at our Arizona, California or Washington location to learn more about LED technologies for outdoor or indoor signage.

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