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Frequently Asked Questions - General Questions on the MUTCD

The following list of categories lists questions relating to General Questions on the MUTCD:

General

  1. What is the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices?
  2. What is the legal status of the MUTCD?
  3. Does the MUTCD apply to all roads and streets in the United States?
  4. What does "open to public travel" mean?
  5. Are State and local agencies required to use metric units?
  6. The FHWA publishes the MUTCD, but who decides which traffic control devices are selected and installed?
  7. How often do MUTCD standards change, and how are the changes made?
  8. Are the figures, tables, and illustrations in the MUTCD standards, guidance, options, or do they have no particular status?
  9. I am a manufacturer of traffic control devices that are fully compliant with the MUTCD. Can I advertise my products as "FHWA Approved" or "MUTCD Approved"?

Private Roads Applicability

  1. Are ring roads, circulation roads, access roads, driveways, and fire lanes on private properties such as shopping malls included in the definition of "private roads open to public travel"?
  2. Who will enforce the provisions of the MUTCD on private roads?
  3. Does the MUTCD apply to private parking lots, such as at shopping malls?
  4. My shopping center has 90-degree or angled parking spaces directly adjacent to the store entrances. A main driving lane runs next to those spaces, parallel to the building frontage, and carries significant traffic leading to and from the shopping center entrance/exit. On the other side of this main driving lane is the large shopping center parking lot. Would this main driving lane be considered a roadway or a "driving aisle"?

State MUTCDs and State Supplements to the National MUTCD

  1. My State has its own State MUTCD. Is that allowed, and if so how does a State MUTCD relate to the Federal MUTCD?
  2. What does substantial conformance mean in regard to State Supplements and State MUTCDs?
  3. From the perspective of a local agency, how do the State Supplements or State MUTCDs apply to the local roads? Are the local agencies bound to the State standards, which in turn are bound to the Federal standards?

Compliance Dates

  1. What Federal Register contains all the compliance dates for new standards?
  2. If there is no compliance date for one of the new requirements, when do devices in the field have to be upgraded to meet the requirement?
  3. If there is a compliance date, does that mean our new installations don't have to comply with the new provision of the MUTCD until that date?
  4. What is the penalty for not meeting a compliance date?

Printing, Copying or Obtaining Copies of the MUTCD

  1. How can I get a copy of the MUTCD?
  2. The larger MUTCD parts or chapters won't print, or print badly. What's wrong?
  3. How can I get high-quality copies of images of signs and figures in the MUTCD? Using the "copy and paste" functions in the MUTCD Web site's PDF documents doesn't produce images that are high enough resolution for my needs?
  4. Is the text of the MUTCD available in Microsoft Word format?
  5. Is the MUTCD copyrighted? Do I need permission from FHWA to copy material from the MUTCD and include it in a book or other type of document?

Other Topics

  1. What is the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), and what is its role?
  2. Are there PowerPoint slides showing the changes from the 2003 to the 2009 MUTCD?
  3. Why doesn't the MUTCD contain standards for the design and spacing of speed humps and bumps?
  4. Where can I obtain more information about the historical development of traffic control devices and the MUTCD, and why certain colors, shapes, designs, dimensions, etc. were chosen?

General Questions on the MUTCD

General


  1. Q: What is the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices?

A: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) publishes the MUTCD, which contains all national design, application, and placement, standards, guidance, options, and support provisions for traffic control devices. The purpose of the MUTCD is to provide uniformity of these devices, which include signs, signals, and pavement markings, to promote highway safety and efficiency on the Nation's streets and highways.

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  1. Q: What is the legal status of the MUTCD?

A: The MUTCD is adopted by reference in accordance with Title 23, United States Code, Section 109(d) and Title 23, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603, and is approved as the national standard for designing, applying, and planning traffic control devices.

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  1. Q: Does the MUTCD apply to all roads and streets in the United States?

A: Yes. In Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603 states that the MUTCD is the national standard for all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel.

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  1. Q: What does "open to public travel" mean?

A: Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603 states that "for the purpose of MUTCD applicability, the phrase 'open to public travel' includes toll roads and roads within shopping centers, parking lots, airports, sports arenas, and other similar business and recreation facilities that are privately owned but where the public is allowed to travel without access restrictions. Except for gated toll roads, roads within private gated properties where access is restricted at all times are not included in this definition. Parking areas, driving aisles within parking areas, and private highway-rail grade crossings are also not included in this definition."

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  1. Q: Are State and local agencies required to use metric units?

A: No, States and local agencies are not required to use metric units. The 2009 MUTCD uses only English units, but metric equivalents for all English unit values in the MUTCD are provided in Appendix A2 of the MUTCD so that those who choose to use metric measurements will have them available.

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  1. Q: The FHWA publishes the MUTCD, but who decides which traffic control devices are selected and installed?

A: The individual State and local highway agencies (not the FHWA) select, install, operate, and maintain all traffic control devices on all public roadways (including the Interstate and the U.S. numbered systems) nationwide. On private roads open to public travel, the owner is responsible, although in some jurisdictions the State or local governments may exercise some approval requirements over private road traffic control devices, especially in the development approval process and in building and occupancy permits.

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  1. Q: How often do MUTCD standards change, and how are the changes made?

A: The MUTCD is a dynamic document because standards change to address travel patterns and road conditions, and to incorporate technology and materials advancements. FHWA has stated its intention to issue a new edition of the MUTCD approximately every 5 years, and to keep revisions to an absolute minimum between new editions. The FHWA previously relied on periodic updates, usually every 2 to 3 years, to revise existing manuals. The 1988 edition was updated with many revised pages seven separate times over a period of 12 years, until a new edition was produced in 2000. The practice of keeping field personnel abreast of amendments to the MUTCD by mailing updates proved unsatisfactory because traffic planners and engineers had difficulty identifying whether or not they were applying the most recent "updated" version. This is one reason why the official version of the manual is now published by FHWA on the Internet only. All MUTCD revisions and new editions must be adopted via the Federal Register rulemaking process, which involves publishing a Notice of Proposed Amendments (NPA) soliciting comments, analyzing comments, and publishing a Final Rule.

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  1. Q: Are the figures, tables, and illustrations in the MUTCD standards, guidance, options, or do they have no particular status?

A: There is no single answer to this. As stated in paragraph 11 of the Introduction of the MUTCD: "Figures and tables, including the notes contained therein, supplement the text and might constitute a Standard, Guidance, Option, or Support. The user needs to refer to the appropriate text to classify the nature of the figure, table, or note contained therein." For example, the text may state that a sign shall be located as shown in Figure X-XX. The portion of that figure that is referred to in the text as being a "shall" condition would thus be a Standard, even though other portions of the figure may illustrate other things that are not Standards.

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  1. Q: I am a manufacturer of traffic control devices that are fully compliant with the MUTCD. Can I advertise my products as "FHWA Approved" or "MUTCD Approved"?

A: The FHWA does not approve or endorse individual devices or products as being MUTCD compliant. It is not appropriate to include the terms "FHWA Approved" or "MUTCD Approved" in product literature or advertisements. State and local highway agencies are responsible for assuring that devices they use on public roads under their jurisdiction are compliant with the MUTCD. Note that highway agencies, before using a product, usually have other determinations they must make, such as whether the product meets the agency's qualification criteria, has been tested for quality, durability, etc., and meets the agency's detailed product specifications. The FHWA is not involved in these determinations. For some products, State and local highway agencies need to determine whether the product has been found to be crashworthy in accordance with NCHRP Report 350. The FHWA Office of Safety is responsible for reviewing and accepting crashworthiness tests of devices and appurtenances (such as supports) that are placed within the right of way. That is a completely separate issue from MUTCD compliance. For information on NCHRP 350 certification, please refer to the Office of Safety's Web site at http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/roadway_dept/policy_guide/road_hardware/index.cfm.

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Private Roads Applicability

  1. Q: Are ring roads, circulation roads, access roads, driveways, and fire lanes on private properties such as shopping malls included in the definition of "private roads open to public travel"?

A: Definition 159 in Section 1A.13 defines "Private Road Open to Public Travel" as including "roads within shopping centers" without specifying certain types of such roads. The terms "ring road," "circulation road," "access road," "driveway," and "fire lane" are in common use and have general understanding in the commercial development industry but have not been precisely defined for regulatory purposes such as the MUTCD. Individual commercial developments and the private roads within them exhibit a very wide variety of physical conditions and layout designs. Thus, it is not possible at this time to provide any precise definitions or clarifications beyond the language already included in the Code of Federal Regulations and the MUTCD.

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  1. Q: Who will enforce the provisions of the MUTCD on private roads?

A: Private roads open to public travel are now subject to the same traffic control standards as public streets and highways. However, the FHWA does not believe it is necessary for State and/or local highway agencies to have specific authority or enforcement responsibility for traffic control devices on private roads to ensure compliance with the MUTCD. Owners or parties responsible for such private roads are encouraged to bring the traffic control devices into compliance with the MUTCD and other applicable State Manuals, and those who do not may find themselves exposed to increased tort liability. State and local jurisdictions can encourage MUTCD compliance on private roads by incorporating pertinent language into zoning requirements, building and occupancy permits, and similar controls that they exercise over private properties.

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  1. Q: Does the MUTCD apply to private parking lots, such as at shopping malls?

A: No. The Introduction of the 2009 MUTCD and the changes to the Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR 655.603(a)) that were adopted on December 16, 2009, make it clear that the MUTCD does not apply to parking areas and driving aisles within parking areas, either privately or publicly owned. While MUTCD general principles and standard traffic control device designs should be used in parking areas, there are some MUTCD provisions that do not easily translate to conditions typically found in parking lots and parking garages. Consideration of making the MUTCD apply to parking areas may occur in the future after development of appropriate and feasible standards and guidance for the application of traffic control devices in parking areas.

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  1. Q: My shopping center has 90-degree or angled parking spaces directly adjacent to the store entrances. A main driving lane runs next to those spaces, parallel to the building frontage, and carries significant traffic leading to and from the shopping center entrance/exit. On the other side of this main driving lane is the large shopping center parking lot. Would this main driving lane be considered a roadway or a "driving aisle"?

A: It depends on whether the driving lane is separated from the adjacent parking lot. Definition 133 in Section 1A.13 clearly states that parking spaces must be separated from the roadway in order to be considered a "parking area." Thus, if the driving lane described in the question is separated from the adjacent parking lot, it would typically be considered a roadway and not a driving aisle within the parking area. Conversely, if there is no separation of the driving lane from the adjacent parking lot, it would typically be considered a driving aisle of the parking lot. It is important to understand that, because of the wide variety of site layouts on private property, it not possible to make generalizations. Each specific case needs to be analyzed individually by the property owner and/or its engineering consultants to make a judgment of where the MUTCD would apply or not apply. Such judgments and the reasoning used should be documented by the owner for use in the event that future claims arise over the issue of MUTCD applicability.

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State MUTCDs and State Supplements to the National MUTCD

  1. Q: My State has its own State MUTCD. Is that allowed, and if so how does a State MUTCD relate to the Federal MUTCD?

A: Yes, State MUTCDs are allowed. Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires all States to do one of three things within two years after a new national MUTCD edition is issued or any national MUTCD amendments are made: 1) adopt the new or revised national MUTCD as the standard for traffic control devices in the State; 2) adopt the national MUTCD with a State Supplement that is in substantial conformance with the new or revised national MUTCD; or 3) adopt a State MUTCD that is in substantial conformance with the new or revised national MUTCD.

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  1. Q: What does substantial conformance mean in regard to State Supplements and State MUTCDs?

A: In 2006 a specific definition of substantial conformance was added to the Code of Federal Regulations. 23 CFR 655.603(b) states that "substantial conformance means that the State MUTCD or supplement shall conform as a minimum to the standard statements included in the National MUTCD" and that "the guidance statements contained in the National MUTCD shall also be in the State Manual or supplement unless the reason for not including it is satisfactorily explained based on engineering judgment, specific conflicting State law, or a documented engineering study." This section of the CFR also allows FHWA to grant exceptions in cases where a State MUTCD or supplement cannot conform to standard statements in the National MUTCD because of the requirements of a specific State law that was in effect prior to the January 16, 2007 effective date of this provision, if FHWA determines the non-conformance does not create a safety concern. Also, legal precedents have determined that State Supplements and State MUTCDs can be more prescriptive than the national MUTCD. This means that a State can make a national MUTCD "should" condition a "shall" condition in that State, can allow in that State only one of several national MUTCD optional designs for a particular device, or can prohibit the use in that State of a particular optional device. However, State Supplements and State MUTCDs cannot omit or change a national MUTCD "shall" to a "should" or change a "should" to a "may". The FHWA reviews each State Supplement and State MUTCD and makes determinations as to substantial conformance.

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  1. Q: From the perspective of a local agency, how do the State Supplements or State MUTCDs apply to the local roads? Are the local agencies bound to the State standards, which in turn are bound to the Federal standards?

A: The State law will govern in most circumstances. Each State enacts its own laws regarding compliance with standards for traffic control devices in that State. If the State law has adopted a State Supplement or a State MUTCD that FHWA has found to be in substantial conformance with the national MUTCD, then those State requirements are what the local road agencies (as well as the State DOT) must abide by. The exception is when traffic control devices are installed on a federal aid project, in which case the Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR 655.603(d)(2)) specifically requires those devices to comply with the national MUTCD before the road can be opened or reopened to the public for unrestricted use.

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Compliance Dates

  1. Q: What Federal Register contains all the compliance dates for new standards?

A: The Federal Register dated December 16, 2009, contains the final rule that adopted the new 2009 MUTCD standards. This Federal Register notice is located on the MUTCD web site. The compliance dates for updating existing devices in the field to comply with the changes effective with the 2009 edition are given in that Federal Register final rule in the discussions of individual changes. A list of all currently relevant compliance dates (including those established by prior final rules) is contained within the 2009 MUTCD itself, in Table I-2 in the Introduction on pages I-4 to I-6.

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  1. Q: If there is no compliance date for one of the new requirements, when do devices in the field have to be upgraded to meet the requirement?

A: Each State, in cooperation with its political subdivisions, is required by Federal law (23 U.S.C. 402(a)) to have a program for the systematic upgrading of substandard traffic control devices and for the installation of needed devices to achieve conformity with the MUTCD. The program should include dedicated time to properly assess traffic control operations and needs, budgeting of funds required for implementing MUTCD changes and, to the extent possible, and accomplishing the changes either when the devices are no longer serviceable because they reach the end of their service life or otherwise need to be replaced, or when other events such as highway improvement or reconstruction projects occur. Specific compliance dates have been established for only a few new requirements in the MUTCD that are of critical safety importance justifying upgrading existing devices before they may be at the end of their service life, or in cases where the new MUTCD requirement is for an action, such as a study, that is not related to service life.

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  1. Q: If there is a compliance date, does that mean our new installations don't have to comply with the new provision of the MUTCD until that date?

A: No, all new or reconstructed devices installed anytime after a new MUTCD is adopted must be in compliance with the new MUTCD provisions, regardless of whether or not there is a compliance date established for a given provision in the Manual. Compliance dates apply to existing devices in the field that don't meet the new MUTCD provisions. Those existing non-compliant devices must be replaced with compliant devices by the stated compliance date.

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  1. Q: What is the penalty for not meeting a compliance date?

A: Failure to replace non-compliant devices for which a compliance date is established could result in withdrawal of Federal-aid funds. Now that most States no longer have sovereign immunity, tort liability in lawsuits is another possible penalty for non-compliance, especially in situations where a crash has occurred that might be attributed to inadequate, inappropriate, or noncompliant traffic control devices.

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Printing, Copying or Obtaining Copies of the MUTCD

  1. Q: How can I get a copy of the MUTCD?

A: You can print your own copy directly from this web site. Downloading and printing instructions are included on the MUTCD web site. Please read the instructions provided and if you are still experiencing difficulties after making the suggested adjustments, please submit your problem to Operations Feedback and you will receive a reply. Alternatively, you can purchase a bound copy, a 3-ring notebook loose-leaf version, or a CD-ROM version through any of the four national associations listed below:

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)

American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA)

International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA)

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  1. Q: The larger MUTCD parts or chapters won't print, or print badly. What's wrong?

A: Certain parts and chapters of the MUTCD have very large file sizes due to the large page count, number of illustrations, or both (for example, Part 6 has 184 pages with 60 illustrations). These large files can present problems when printing, depending on the printer used. This is often due to the amount of memory within the printer itself, which is often minimal. If the printer will not print the file, or prints it with errors, sending the file to the printer in smaller sections (10 to 20 pages at a time) often solves the problem.

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  1. Q: How can I get high-quality copies of images of signs and figures in the MUTCD? Using the "copy and paste" functions in the MUTCD Web site's PDF documents doesn't produce images that are high enough resolution for my needs.

A: Before attempting to copy an image from a page of the MUTCD PDF, try this: Using the zoom tool of Adobe Acrobat, increase the magnification to at least 200% or 300%, then use the snapshot tool to select the portion of the page you want to copy and paste. Often that will produce an image that is of very good quality. If that is not sufficient for your needs, a private web site (www.trafficsign.us) maintained by Mr. Richard Moeur of the Arizona Department of Transportation is a convenient source of high quality images of MUTCD signs. Also, FHWA's MUTCD Team can provide, on request, copies of any MUTCD figure in high-resolution PDF or EPS format.

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  1. Q: Is the text of the MUTCD available in Microsoft Word format?

A: Yes, this is available on request from the MUTCD Team.

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  1. Q: Is the MUTCD copyrighted? Do I need permission from FHWA to copy material from the MUTCD and include it in a book or other type of document?

A: The MUTCD is in the public domain and as such it is not copyrighted. Individuals can use material from the online version of the MUTCD, such as tables, figures, and text quotations, without seeking permission from the FHWA. When using or referencing material from the MUTCD, please be sure to reference the source as the MUTCD, 2009 Edition, published by FHWA at http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/2009/pdf_index.htm. It is also helpful to include the section and paragraph number of the material quoted, so that readers can easily find the material in context within the full MUTCD.

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Other Topics

  1. Q: What is the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), and what is its role?

A: The NCUTCD is a private organization that has no official association with the Federal government. Its current membership is more than 250 traffic control device experts, representing a wide variety of organizations, who have a major interest in and experience with traffic control device issues. The majority of the NCUTCD members are employees of State and local agencies and are involved in the daily operation of highways or streets. NCUTCD members are volunteers receiving no compensation for their contributions. Committee members meet twice a year to discuss the Manual and develop consensus recommendations, which are then submitted to the FHWA for consideration. The NCUTCD is also one of many organizations and individuals that reviews FHWA's proposals for MUTCD changes and submits comments to the rulemaking docket. For more information on the NCUTCD, including its history dating from 1932, see their web site at www.ncutcd.org.

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  1. Q: Are there PowerPoint slides showing the changes from the 2003 to the 2009 MUTCD?

A: Yes, the FHWA's MUTCD Team has prepared PowerPoint slides that provide details and examples for the significant changes from the 2003 edition to the 2009 edition. These slideshows are posted on the MUTCD Web site under "Training", near the bottom of the navigation bar along the left side of the page.

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  1. Q: Why doesn't the MUTCD contain standards for the design and spacing of speed humps and bumps?

A: Speed bumps and humps are considered "physical features" of a roadway rather than traffic control devices (TCDs), so the MUTCD does not address the height, width, length, or spacing of the actual humps and bumps. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (www.ite.org) publishes technical guidance on criteria, dimensions, spacing, etc. of speed humps that many cities and counties use in developing their own policies for these features. The pavement markings and signs used to warn road users of the physical features of the road, such as signs and markings for speed humps, are TCDs and are therefore covered by the MUTCD.

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  1. Q: Where can I obtain more information about the historical development of traffic control devices and the MUTCD, and why certain colors, shapes, designs, dimensions, etc. were chosen?

A: One of the best references on questions about the history of traffic control devices is a 1971 publication entitled "Traffic Devices---Historical Aspects Thereof." This book is available from the Institute of Transportation Engineers (www.ite.org). Also, Dr. H. Gene Hawkins of Texas A&M University has compiled a great deal of historical information on the MUTCD and traffic control devices and he provides this information online at https://ceprofs.civil.tamu.edu/ghawkins/MUTCD-History.htm.

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