Road signs in the United States

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Map showing state adoption of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices:
  Adopted national MUTCD
  Adopted national MUTCD with state supplement
  Adopted state-specific MUTCD

In the United States, road signs are, for the most part, standardized by federal regulations, most notably in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and its companion volume the Standard Highway Signs (SHS).

There are no plans for adopting the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals standards. The 1971 MUTCD adopted several Vienna Convention-inspired symbol signs with the intent to transition to symbols in lieu of words as "rapidly as possible",[1][2][3] but U.S. drivers were baffled by symbol signs.[4][5] The language about "rapidly" transitioning to symbols quietly disappeared in the 1978 MUTCD.[6] The result was to effectively freeze several measures intended to be temporary until U.S. drivers could learn the relevant symbols' meanings. For example, the "Do Not Enter" word message is not found on the Vienna Convention's equivalent sign. Two symbol signs were eliminated, respectively, in the 2000 and 2003 MUTCDs (thereby requiring use of the previous word message signs): Pavement Ends and Narrow Bridge.[7]

Eighteen states use the manual without alterations; 22 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have adopted it in conjunction with a supplemental volume; and ten states have a state version in substantial conformance to the MUTCD.[8] There are localized versions used in large cities such as New York City which use a naming system compatible with the MUTCD and/or state supplement. The MUTCD and SHS establish seven categories of signs for road and highway use, as follows[9] (all signs from national MUTCD, unless noted):

Regulatory[edit]

Regulatory signs give instructions to motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. Signs such as Stop, No Parking, No Turns, and Yield are considered regulatory signs. Some have special shapes, such as the octagon for the Stop sign and the crossbuck for railroad crossings. Some signs can be localized, such as No Parking, and some are found only in state and local jurisdictions, as they are based on state or local laws, such as New York City's "Don't Block the Box" signs. These signs are in the R series of signs in the MUTCD and typically in the R series in most state supplements or state MUTCDs.

R1 Series: Stop and Yield[edit]

The MUTCD's R1 series is for Stop and Yield. As not all situations are covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. The 4-WAY and 3-WAY plaques (R1-3) were deprecated in the 2009 Edition of the MUTCD in favor of the ALL WAY plaque (R1-3P).

R2 Series: Speed Limit[edit]

The MUTCD's R2 series is for speed limit signs. Some state supplements and state MUTCDs place various speed limit signs in other series. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. Speed limits in the United States are always in miles per hour. Metric speed limit signs in kilometers per hour are authorized but extremely rare, usually seen near the borders with Canada and Mexico, both of which use the metric system.[11] Many states, however, disallow the use of metric signs on state-maintained roads due to MUTCD restrictions,[12] increasing the rarity of such signs.

R3 Series: Lane Usage and Turns[edit]

The MUTCD's R3 series of signs is for lane usage and turn signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R4 Series: Regulation of Movement[edit]

The MUTCD's R4 series of signs is for the regulation of movement signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R5 Series: Exclusionary[edit]

The MUTCD's R5 series of signs is for exclusionary signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. The most common of these signs is the do not enter sign.

R6 Series: One Way and Divided Highway[edit]

The MUTCD's R6 series of signs is for one way and divided highway signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. The most common of these signs is the One Way sign.

R7 Series: Parking[edit]

The MUTCD allows for three types of parking signs: permissive, No Parking, and No Standing. However, in most states, there is an additional more restrictive one, No Stopping. These signs are found in the R7 series of signs in the MUTCD. As all situations are not covered, several states and local governments have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

Permissive Parking[edit]

These types of signs allow for parking for either an unlimited or varied amount of time. They are often used in conjunction with parking meters and parking permits. They are specified by the MUTCD to be green on white. Local variations occur with additional information and slightly different designs.

No Parking[edit]

No Parking signs indicate that loading or unloading while temporarily stopped is permitted, but the driver must not leave the vicinity of the vehicle.[13] Some No Parking signs display time restrictions, while others are permanent restrictions. There are also temporary versions of the signs, often of similar design to the permanent ones. These signs are specified by the MUTCD to be red on white, although local variations occur.

No Standing[edit]

No Standing signs indicate that stopping temporarily to load or unload passengers is allowed, but vehicles cannot be stopped at the location for longer periods of time, even if the driver remains with the vehicle.[13] As with no parking signs, some restrictions displayed on the signs are permanent and some are time based. The signs are also specified by the MUTCD to be red on white, but local variations exist.

No Stopping[edit]

No Stopping signs indicate that stopping is only allowed in order to obey a traffic sign, signal, traffic agent, police officer, or to avoid conflicts with other vehicles.[13] These are the most restrictive of the parking signs. They are typically red on white.

R8 Series: Parking and Emergency Restrictions[edit]

The MUTCD's R8 series of signs is for parking restriction and emergency restriction signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R9 Series: Bicycles and Pedestrians[edit]

The MUTCD's R9 series of signs is for bicycle and pedestrian signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R10 Series: Traffic Signal[edit]

The MUTCD's R10 series of signs is for traffic signal related signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R11 Series: Road Closed[edit]

The MUTCD's R11 series of signs is for road closure-related signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R12 Series: Weight Limits[edit]

The MUTCD's R12 series of signs is for weight limit-related signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R13 Series: Weigh Stations[edit]

The MUTCD's R13 series of signs is for weigh station related signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R14 Series: Truck Routes[edit]

The MUTCD's R14 series of signs is for truck route-related signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R15 Series: Rail and Light Rail[edit]

The MUTCD's R15 series of signs is for rail- and light rail-related signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

R16 Series: Seat Belts and Headlight Use[edit]

The MUTCD's R16 series of signs is for seat belt and headlight use-related signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

Other Local and State Series[edit]

The MUTCD does not cover all situations, so states and local governments have developed their own regulatory signs. In these, the sign categories are assigned series either using the MUTCD style, but higher than 16 (as in Texas), or use a unique series nomenclature system (as in California).

Schools[edit]

The S series of signs is specially designated by the MUTCD for use around schools. Some states have additional school warning-related signs in the S series, the W series of warning signs, and/or the R series of regulatory signs of the state supplement or state MUTCD. As of 2009 the MUTCD requires school warning signs to have fluorescent yellow-green backgrounds.[14]

Warning[edit]

Warning signs are found in the W series of the national MUTCD. They highlight existing conditions, such as a curve, school, dead end street, or traffic signal. They can also warn of possible danger such as bumps, bicycles, low flying aircraft, or emergency vehicles. They are either yellow or fluorescent yellow in color and, with a few exceptions, are usually diamond-shaped and sometimes have square or rectangular smaller signs or plaques associated with them. Most W series signs can also be found with orange backgrounds for temporary use in situations such as construction zones. Some of the temporary-use signs are for use only in temporary situations.

W1/2 Series: Turns, Curves, Intersections[edit]

The MUTCD's W1/2 series of signs is for warning signs relating to curves, turns and intersections. As not all situations are covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W3 Series: Advance Traffic Control[edit]

The MUTCD's W3 series of signs is for warning signs relating to advance traffic controls such as speed limits and signals. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. The MUTCD provides options for graphic and text signs.

W4 Series: Lanes and Merges[edit]

The MUTCD's W4 series of signs is for warning signs relating to lane merges and added lanes, as well as lane endings. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W5 Series: Road Width Restrictions[edit]

The MUTCD's W5 series of signs is for warning signs relating to road width restrictions. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. The MUTCD provides options for graphic and text signs.

W6/7 Series: Divided Highways and Hills[edit]

The MUTCD's W6/7 series of signs is for warning signs relating to divided highways, hills, and grades. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. The MUTCD provides options for graphic and text signs.

W8 Series: Pavement and Roadway Conditions[edit]

The MUTCD's W8 series of signs is for warning signs relating to pavement and roadway conditions. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W9/10 Series: Lane Transitions and Railroad Crossings[edit]

The MUTCD's W9/10 series of signs is for warning signs relating to lane transitions and railroad crossings. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W11 Series: Advance Warnings and Crossings[edit]

The MUTCD's W11 series of signs is for warning signs relating to advance warnings and crossings. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. The MUTCD allows use of a fluorescent yellow-green background color for signs relating to people crossing the road.[15]

Emergency Vehicles[edit]

The MUTCD only provides for a warning of fire stations in the W11 series. Most states have their own signs for other emergency vehicle types which may enter the road.

Children[edit]

The MUTCD specifies no children-related signs in the W11 series. Several states, counties, and municipalities have signs for situations as children at play as well as children with various medical conditions. Some of these signs vary from state to state as there is no federal standard.

Bicycles[edit]

The MUTCD provides several signs in the W11 series warning of bicycles and for indicating bicycle facilities. Several states and localities have their own specific bicycle related signs as well.

Vehicles[edit]

The MUTCD provides several signs in the W11 series dealing with vehicles. Several states have additional signs for other types of vehicles and situations regarding vehicles not covered by the MUTCD.

Pedestrians, Transit, and Aviation[edit]

The MUTCD provides several signs in the W11 series dealing with pedestrians, transit, and aviation. Several states have additional signs for other types of vehicles and situations regarding vehicles not covered by the MUTCD.

Animals[edit]

The MUTCD provides several signs in the W11 series dealing with animals. Several states have additional signs for other types of animals not covered by the MUTCD.

Driveways and Entrances[edit]

The MUTCD does not provide signs in the W11 series dealing with driveways and entrances. Many states have their own standards for these signs that they place in their own W11 series.

W12 Series: Low Clearances[edit]

The MUTCD's W12 series of signs is for warning signs relating to low clearances. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. Metric low clearance signs in meters are authorized but extremely rare, usually seen near the borders with Canada and Mexico, both of which use the metric system.[11] Many states, however, disallow the use of metric signs on state-maintained roads due to system restrictions, increasing the rarity of such signs.

W13 Series: Advisory Speeds[edit]

The MUTCD's W13 series of signs is for warning signs relating to advisory speeds. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD. Speed limits in the United States are always in miles per hour. Metric advisory speed signs in kilometers per hour are authorized but extremely rare, usually seen near the borders with Canada and Mexico, both of which use the metric system.[11] Many states, however, disallow the use of metric signs on state-maintained roads due to system restrictions, increasing the rarity of such signs.

W14 Series: Dead End Streets and No Passing Zones[edit]

The MUTCD's W14 series of signs is for warning signs relating to dead-end streets and no-passing zones. As all situations are not covered, several states and local governments have additional signs for other types of situations not covered by the MUTCD.

W15 Series: Playgrounds[edit]

The MUTCD's W15 series of signs is for warning signs relating to playgrounds. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W16 Series: Supplemental Plaques[edit]

The MUTCD's W16 series of signs is for supplemental plaques for warning signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W17 Series: Speed Humps[edit]

The MUTCD's W17 series of signs is for warnings relating to speed humps. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W18 Series: No Traffic Signs[edit]

The MUTCD's W18 series of signs is for warnings relating to no further traffic signs. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W19 Series: End of Controlled Access Highway[edit]

The MUTCD's W19 series of signs is for warning signs relating to the end of a controlled access highway. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W20 Series: Work Zones[edit]

The MUTCD's W20 series of signs is for warning signs relating to work zones. These signs are typically orange background ones used for temporary situations. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W20 Series: Road Ends[edit]

The MUTCD Road Closed signs alert drivers that the road is closed; these signs are white.

W21 Series: Road Work[edit]

The MUTCD's W21 series of signs is for warning signs relating to road work. They typically have orange backgrounds and are used for temporary situations. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD

W22 Series: Blasting Zones[edit]

The MUTCD's W22 series of signs is for warning signs relating to blasting zones. They typically have orange backgrounds and are used for temporary situations. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W23 Series: Slow Traffic[edit]

The MUTCD's W23 series of signs is for warning signs relating to slow traffic. They typically have orange backgrounds and are used for temporary situations. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W24 Series: Lane Shifts[edit]

The MUTCD's W24 series of signs is for warning signs relating to lane shifts, where traffic is diverted slightly toward the left or right of the roadway, but the route is otherwise unchanged. These signs typically have orange background and are used for temporary situations. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

W25 Series: Oncoming Traffic Has Extended Green[edit]

The MUTCD's W25 series of signs is for signs warning that oncoming traffic has an extended green signal at a traffic light. As all situations are not covered, several states have their own standards in addition to the MUTCD.

Incident Management[edit]

The MUTCD's incident management signs are intended for use by emergency crews at traffic incident management scenes pursuant to the National Incident Management System. The MUTCD gives jurisdictions the option of presenting such temporary signs in a fluorescent pink color.[17] There are no specific guidelines as to which signs can and cannot be used for incident management, but a few examples are listed below.

Miscellaneous[edit]

The MUTCD does not provide signs dealing with some other road and highway situations. Many states have their own sign standards for these situations.

Guide[edit]

Guide signs include highway route markers (shields), which are reassurance markers, interchange signs, including advance guide and exit signs, and mile markers. Advance guide and exit signs usually feature control cities or other locations to help direct drivers toward their destinations. The position of the exit number plaque indicates right or left exit[18] (and should indicate center lane exit).

Interchange signs[edit]

Shield markers[edit]

Note: State markers are illustrative examples; all states may select their own marker shapes or use the default circle. See Numbered highways in the United States#State highways and other similar systems.

Toll Road Signs[edit]

Chapter 2F of the MUTCD deals with signs for toll roads.

Hospital[edit]

Library[edit]

Airport[edit]

Non-compliant to MUTCD Signs[edit]

There are many signs that are non-compliant to MUTCD and/or state MUTCD standards seen in use on public and semi-public roads.

Superseded signs[edit]

These signs have been superseded, but can still be seen in some places.

State border signs[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ American Association of State Highway Officials; National Joint Committee on Traffic Control Devices (1971). "Section 2A-13, Symbols". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. p. 16. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  2. ^ "Symbols to Replace Words on U.S. Traffic Signs". The New York Times. May 31, 1970. p. 58.
  3. ^ Lindsey, Robert (April 23, 1972). "Signs of Progress: Road Symbols Guiding Traffic". The New York Times. p. S22. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  4. ^ Hazlett, Bill (March 23, 1972). "Some Confusing: Wordless Traffic Signs Popping Up". Los Angeles Times. p. E1. Available through ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
  5. ^ Conniff, James C.G. (March 30, 1975). "Danger: Signs ahead". The New York Times. p. 183. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  6. ^ American Association of State Highway Officials; National Joint Committee on Traffic Control Devices (1978). "Section 2A-13, Symbols". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. p. 2A-6.
  7. ^ American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; National Joint Committee on Traffic Control Devices (2003). "Introduction". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  8. ^ "MUTCDs & Traffic Control Devices Information by State". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Federal Highway Administration. July 14, 2020. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  9. ^ Staff. "The Shape—and Color—Give Us a Sign". Federal Highway Administration. Archived from the original on April 1, 2009. Retrieved April 5, 2009.
  10. ^ "Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (TMUTCD)". www.txdot.gov. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c Metric signs on roads in the U.S.
  12. ^ "23 CFR Part 655 National Standards for Traffic Control Devices; the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways; Revision; Final Rule" (PDF). Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c Staff (October 2011). "Chapter 7: Parallel Parking". Driver's Manual and Study Guide. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  14. ^ "2009 Edition Chapter 7B. School Signs". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The United States Department of Transportation. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  15. ^ "2009 Edition Part 2 Figure 2C-11. Non-Vehicular Warning Signs". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. United States Department of Transportation. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  16. ^ "2009 Edition Part 2 Figure 2C-11. Non-Vehicular Warning Signs". Manual On Uniform Traffic Control Devices. United States Department of Transportation. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  17. ^ Federal Highway Administration (2009). "Section 6I.01, General". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (2009 ed.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
  18. ^ "MUTCD, Section 2E.28 - Interchange Exit Numbering" (PDF).

External links[edit]