Traffic control device rules strengthened

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New rules for highway signs and pavement markings developed in response to a bus crash in Atlanta last March are among the changes in the Notice of Proposed Amendments for the next edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the Federal Highway Administration announced Thursday, Jan. 3.

Some have pointed to confusing pavement markings and highway signs as possible contributing factors in the crash that claimed the lives of seven and injured 29 when a bus drove off an overpass in north Atlanta.

“Safety is our top priority,” says J. Richard Capka, FHWA administrator. “While America’s highways have never been safer, crashes like this one offer important opportunities to learn how they can be avoided in the future. We know what can happen when too many signs, or too few, make it difficult for motorists to make informed decisions, which is what makes this manual such an important safety tool for transportation planners at all levels of government.”

Among many others, proposed changes for the 2009 edition of the MUTCD include stronger guidance on Guide Signs for Preferential Lanes, requiring that all HOV lane signs be consistent, using a green background and white legend; clearly worded signs for left-side direct exits in preferential lanes and for all left-side exits; and better HOV-lane pavement markings, specifically diamond-shaped symbols throughout the lane and at key traffic decision points, such as where lanes diverge.

The 2009 edition also will address the needs of the growing older driver population, with proposed increases in the minimum size of warning signs on multi-lane roads and improvements in the ratio of letter height to legibility distance.

In addition, a completely new section for the manual is proposed that will provide guidance on the maximum amount of information that can be comprehended by drivers based on speed and viewing distance, allowable number of messages on a sign, brightness levels and display time for each message.

The MUTCD — the national standard for highway signs, traffic signals, pavement markings and all other traffic control devices — is available online at