Minimum Reflective Standards for Traffic Signs

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New Federal Rules

Impact Private Property

If the public travels on property that you own or manage, your traffic signs, pavement markings and other traffic control devices are now required to conform to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Devices (MUTCD)

Effective January 16, 2007, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA amended the United States Code (U.S.C.) to clarify the applicability of the MUTCD to ANY road open to public travel. That includes privately owned property where the public travels.  Examples are shopping centers, office and apartment complexes, and even recreation facilities.

As a property owner or manager, you need to understand the implications and risks associated with this law, and what to do to keep customers safe while traveling on your property.

This page does three things to help you do that.

  • A series of frequently asked questions are presented to help you understand your responsibilities, risks and potential liabilities.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words, so examples of correct and incorrect traffic control devices are provided.
  • Links and directions to obtain copies of two relevant guide books -- the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the Standard Highway Signs book are also provided.
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To view the "Final Rule" as issued by FHWA:

To view the Standard Highway Signs Book:

To view more information regarding the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices:

Frequently Asked Questions

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

A. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
Devices (MUTCD) is incorporated by
reference in 23 Code of Federal
Regulations (CFR), Part 655, Subpart F
and shall be recognized as the national
standard for all traffic control devices
installed on any street, highway, or bicycle
trail open to public travel
in accordance
with 23 U.S.C. 109(d) and 402(a). The
policies and procedures of the Federal
Highway Administration (FHWA) to obtain
basic uniformity of traffic control devices
shall be as described in 23 CFR 655,
Subpart F.

Q. Why does the Manual suddenly apply to the private property that I own or

A. The Manual has applied to “all roads open
to public travel” for some time. This update
by FHWA just clarifies that certain areas
such as shopping centers, office and
apartment complexes, and sports facilities
are “roads open to public travel” within the
intent of the law. Substantial safety
benefits result from providing road users
with consistent, uniform messages no
matter where they travel.

Q. What does this law cover?
A. The law applies to “traffic control devices”
and safety features on your property.
Common examples of traffic control devices
that are covered include signs such as
markings such as STOP bars and
directional arrows, and safety features such
as barriers or guardrail.

Q. How long do I have to comply with this law?
A. The FHWA issued an Effective Date of
January 16, 2007. States have two years
from the effective date to adopt this
. It is probably best to start thinking
about which non-compliant traffic control
devices should be replaced now.

Q. What happens if I don’t comply?
A. If you don’t comply with the law, you risk
exposure to tort liability if someone is
injured or worse yet, loses their life on your
property. More importantly, good modern
signage promotes safety, reflects postively
on the property owner, and is more inviting
to the public. It can help minimize insurance
costs and maintain a safer environment.

Q. You said that a sign must be
“retroreflective.” What does that mean?

A. “Retroreflective” is a fancy scientific word
for “brightness.” In order to appear bright
to our eyes at night, traffic control devices
need to be either directly illuminated or
have “retroreflective” surfaces so that
almost all the light striking them is reflected
back to its source. “Retroreflectivity” can
be achieved with the use of special
sheeting on signs or the application of
specially manufactured glass beads in
pavement markings.

Q. Can you give me examples of traffic
control devices that don’t “comply” with the law?

A. Here are some examples that we have
seen with some regularity:
◊ Signs that are the wrong color, such as a
green STOP sign. STOP signs are
required to be RED with WHITE lettering,
and octagonal in shape.
◊ Signs that are mounted at the wrong
such as four feet from the ground.
The Manual requires signs to be mounted
at seven feet in urban areas and five feet in
rural areas.
◊ Signs that are made of the wrong
such as wood. Signs must be
retroreflective and it is impossible to make
wood retroreflective.
◊ Speed limits that are non-conforming,
such as 14 MPH. The Manual requires that
all speed limits be in 5 MPH increments.
◊ Markings that are the wrong color such
as yellow or red STOP BARS at STOP
signs. The Manual requires that these be



Impact Signs On

Private Property, i.e.

  • Shopping Centers
  • Office Parks
  • Residential Developments
  • Apartment Complexes
  • Entertainment Centers

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