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Understanding Placement of MUTCD Signs

April 24, 2019

Officials who are in charge of posting traffic signs must be aware of the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Control Devices (MUTCD). This book provides design details for traffic signs based on federal standards. In many places the guidelines are consistent, although not all road signs must meet strict requirements. Here’s an overview of how MUTCD signs help make neighborhoods easy to navigate.

Defining Sign Purpose

The MUTCD helps make signage across America consistent so that there is widespread agreement and awareness as to what specific signs mean. There are multiple reasons to post traffic signs in specific locations, but each sign must ultimately fulfill a need, get attention, and deliver a simple message. If the signs are placed where they are seen with adequate time for the driver to respond, traffic signs can play an important role in reducing traffic fatalities and injuries.

Local governments must follow MUTCD specifications for shapes, sizes, and fonts used for traffic signs and road markings. Private land owners must also conform to this manual, which is part of a plan to keep most road signs consistent within the United States. Some state agencies develop their own standards, but most state and local agencies conform to MUTCD federal standards. The MUTCD celebrated its 80th year in 2015, revealing its long-term influence and durability.

Many lives have been saved over the years due to MUTCD signs and modern traffic control devices. The requirements for retroreflective material for improved night time visibility alone have helped reduce traffic fatalities. The placement of glass beads on roads has also helped improve driver visibility at night. Signs with retroreflective coating shine light back toward an original light source, making them easy to read for oncoming traffic.

By keeping caution signs yellow and warning signs orange everywhere across America, states help build a widespread awareness about traffic safety signs. A yellow sign warns drivers that they are entering an area that requires them to drive at their own risk. Yellow signs generally warn drivers of hazards that cannot be controlled by local authorities, such as how wet weather or oil spills produce slick roads. Orange signs are used for construction, particularly to inform drivers about “men at work.”

Due to consistency of sign standards enforced by the United States Department of Transportation, American drivers understand signage around the country with only a glance.

Sign Placement Based on Engineering Studies

An important consideration for sign placement should be based on an analysis of engineering studies. Evidence should exist that signs are necessary since too many messages can weaken the effects of signage. Each intersection has its own characteristics that should be evaluated to determine the type of sign needed and where it will be most visible.


MUTCD sign standards are what make signs consistent across the country. This consistency has created a safer environment for drivers coming into a region from different parts of the country. Contact us at Zumar for more information at our Arizona, California, or Washington location.

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