Every time we climb behind the wheel of a vehicle and hit the highway, the majority of us take all of the highway traffic signs that we see for granted. This includes all of the signs that regulate highway traffic and are maintained by our state and local governments. Such signs as regulatory signs(speed limit, one way), information signs(street, distance to) and warning signs(curve ahead, dead end) fall into this category and serve a crucial role in maintaining order and safety on our public highways.
Imagine what it would be like if every city, county and state in America had different rules for their highway safety signs. How confusing would it be if all stop signs were not red? What if every time you entered a new town or crossed a state line, you had to learn and adapt to a different signage system. The results would be very confusing and extremely dangerous.
In part 1 of “Evolution of the MUTCD”, H. Gene Hawkins, Jr. tells us that in 1935 the federal government realized a need for some type of uniformity on the nations growing highway infrastructure. The solution to this growing need was the creation of the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” (MUTCD).
This set of federal guidelines not only set minimum requirements for highway signs, but also for temporary traffic control devices such as barricades, traffic cones and barriers. It also covers road marking and striping, traffic signals and more. All of which govern how we drive on the nation’s highways and byways.
According to section 23 U.S.C. 402(a) of the “Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970”, in order to continue receiving federal highway funds, a state would have to adopt it’s own highway safety program which adheres to the same standards put forth by the federal government and be approved by the Secretary of Transportation. Failure to conform to the uniformed standards put forth in the federal MUTCD, would result in the reduction of federal highway funds that state would be eligible to receive.
Many states developed their own MUTCD, which still has to stay in conformance with the federal manual. Basically, each individual state can develop their own uniformed standards, as long as their standards are equivalent or more stringent than that of the national standards. In other words, the states can make their requirements stronger, but they cannot weaken the federal uniform standards that their state must follow.
This nationwide uniformity is what allows millions of drivers to safely travel our nations highways and back roads from Florida to California with confidence and minimal surprises.
H. Gene Hawkins, Jr., “Evolution of the MUTCD: Part 1 – Early Standards for Traffic Control Devices”, Texas A&M University
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Safety Standards for Signs, Signals, and Barricades”, United States Department of Labor