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/ Categories: ATSSA, FHWA, Signs

FHWA issues MUTCD ruling on ‘Uses of and Nonstandard Syntax on Changeable Message Signs’

The Federal Highway administration issued a Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices or Streets and Highways (MUTCD) official ruling this week pertaining to syntax on changeable message sign messaging.

Official Ruling No. 2(09)-174 provides an official interpretation for the question of “whether the MUTCD provides for displays on changeable message signs (CMS) that use unconventional wording typically not found on standard signing and how public input into the development of CMS messages may be used.”

The ruling provides background and guidance for state and local agencies to properly implement the messaging on traffic safety devices. It notes that the devices should not contain advertising or messages unrelated to traffic control and then reviews the five principles for an effective traffic control device: fulfill a need; command attention; convey a clear, simple meaning; command respect from road users; and give adequate time for proper response.

It then offers examples of when the characteristics are applied properly applied and the harm that can come from employing devices improperly. It also outlines:

  • Effective and safe uses of CMS
  • Guidance for designing sign messages
  • Principal uses of CMS
  • Acceptable secondary uses of CMS

The ruling concludes, “As official traffic control devices, it is important that all the allowable types of messages displayed on these signs adhere to the most fundamental principles of effective traffic control devices, among which are relevance and timeliness, simplicity and familiarity of message, minimization of legend elements and complexity, and consistency with other types of signs. To maintain the integrity and effectiveness of CMS, prudent judgment should be employed in the determination of the use of CMS as well as the content and syntax of messages displayed thereupon.”

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