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What is the MUTCD?

The MUTCD (Manual on Traffic Control Devices) is the national guidebook published by the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) that defines and regulates the use all traffic control devices, traffic signs, traffic signals, and pavement markings in the United States. The purpose of the MUTCD is to provide uniformity of these devices such as stop signs, school signs, caution signs, and do not enter signs in order to increase highway safety, improve traffic flow, and decrease accidents on streets and highways.

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Does The MUTCD Apply to All Roads?

The MUTCD guidelines apply to all roads and streets in the United States. Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603 states that the MUTCD is the national standard for all traffic control devices and traffic signs installed on any street or highway open to public travel. This includes private roads, toll roads, bike paths and roads within shopping centers, parking lot areas, airports, sports arenas, and other similar business and/or recreation facilities that are privately owned but where the public is allowed to travel without access restrictions.

The MUTCD establishes minimum standards for traffic signs by providing guidance about traffic sign design, traffic sign placement, traffic sign readability and traffic sign visibility. The implementation of these uniformity standards has resulted in improved driver understanding and a reduction in accidents.

How Do State Laws Work With the MUTCD?

In addition to the national MUTCD, most states also have their own MUTCD too. Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires all States to do one of these 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. 3) Adopt a State MUTCD that is in substantial conformance with the new or revised national MUTCD.

The individual states choose, install, operate, and maintain all traffic control devices and traffic signs on all roadways (including the Interstate and the U.S. numbered systems) nationwide. If the state law has adopted a state supplement or a state MUTCD that FHWA says is in substantial conformance with the national MUTCD, then those state laws are what the local road agencies and the state DOT must follow. The exception is when traffic control devices and traffic signs are installed on a federal aid project. In that case, the Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR 655.603(d)(2)) specifically requires those devices and traffic signs comply with the national MUTCD before the road can be opened or reopened to the public use.

Local governments also can make compliance with the MUTCD a specific requirement of their building code ordinances or can include a clause in their detailed building or occupancy permits for shopping malls, private developments, etc. to require all traffic control devices and traffic signs installed in the private development to conform to the MUTCD.

What About Changes to the MUTCD?

The first MUTCD was published in1935. Since then there have been eight revisions. The MUTCD is revised periodically to allow for changes in road usage, changing road conditions and improvements in sign materials and traffic control technologies. The FHWA usually issues a new MUTCD about every 5 years and tries to keep revisions to an absolute minimum between new editions. The most current MUTCD is the 2003 edition that has since had 2 revisions. It is currently under review and a release is scheduled to happen shortly.

How can I get a copy of the MUTCD?

The manual may be ordered from the Institute of Traffic Engineers at or may be downloaded at the MUTCD web site