The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices known as MUTCD specifies the rules and regulations on how traffic signs, road surface markings, and signals are designed and implemented. The regulations are determined by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), but the individual state and local highway agencies are the ones that select, install, and operate the approved traffic control devices. Compliance with CFR 23 section 109(d), Part 655.603 is mandatory for the MUTCD and those using it as the rules keep public roadways for motorized and non-motorized vehicles safe.

Placed in action in 1935, the MUTCD has existed for over eighty years going through several changes (eight editions plus multiple minor changes) with the safety of the public in mind as well as to keep up with society’s ever-changing transportation needs. Before MUTCD’s implementation, roadways were very disorganized. Signs were different on every public roadway due to each road being sponsored by automobile clubs like the early version of Triple-A (AAA) who, in the beginning, promoted the highway for business rather than keeping the safety of individuals a priority.

Since the MUTCD has been established by one entity rather than multiple separate parties like in the early 20th century, it is able to be referenced by many workers needing to standardize signage. These workers include:

  • Local transportation planners
  • Traffic engineers
  • Owners of private roads (shopping centers, airports, etc.)
  • The companies that make the signs and traffic control devices
  • The people who install them

To keep up with changing transportation needs, the FHWA has stated its intentions to come out with a new revised edition every five years to keep safety standards up to date. However, to be able to place revisions they must be adopted by the Federal Register rulemaking process where the FHWA must submit an NPA (Notice of Proposed Amendments), soliciting comments, analyzing comments proving that it is needed, and finally publishing a final rule to make the change. After this is done, the state can do one of three things within two years according to CFR 23:

  • Adopt the new or revised national MUTCD as the standard
  • Adopt the updated national MUTCD as well as a state supplement that is in compliance with the new ruling, or
  • Adopt a state MUTCD that is in substantial conformance with the revised ruling

Those who are involved in any sort of transportation field are required to follow the rules of the MUTCD to keep the public safe and sound.

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