Imagine traveling across the country and seeing different traffic signs each time you crossed a state line. You might get used to one standard and then suddenly find everything is different elsewhere. Fortunately, the arrival of the automobile spurred a need for standardized traffic signs and road markings.

Before anything was standardized, different traffic control devices started to emerge across the country. Michigan painted the first centerline on a road in 1911. Cleveland was the first city to install an electric traffic signal in 1914.  Shortly after, Detroit became the first city to install a STOP sign and followed up with the first 3-color traffic light six years later.

Speed Limit sign

Amidst all the emerging traffic control devices, representatives from several states thought it necessary to travel the nation and create a standard for traffic signs and road markings. Their efforts eventually led to the development of the MUTCD, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

It was first published in 1935 as a way of setting standards for traffic control devices across the nation, helping to reduce the number of crashes and improve the flow of traffic. In its first edition, the MUTCD set the standard for simple traffic control devices such as signs and pavement markings.

It didn't stop there, however; the manual has been revised and updated nearly every decade. The second edition was expanded to include sign illumination, speed signs, and no-passing zone markers, to name a few. It has slowly evolved to become more compliant with the growth and change of modern day travel.

Millions of drivers who navigate city roads and interstate highways benefit from the contents of the MUTCD every day. And that information is put into practice by the various organizations that design and install both roads and traffic control devices.

  • State governments and traffic engineers design our roads
  • Shopping centers, airports, and other properties open their private roads to public traffic
  • Public works department employees install and maintain traffic control devices

All of these professionals must ensure that the roads and traffic control devices they setup follow the national standards laid out in the MUTCD. In fact, their failure to comply could even result in the loss of federal-aid funds or cause an increase in tort liability.

A wealth of information on traffic control devices can be found in the MUTCD, which is available to view online. It will teach you everything you need to know about proper design, application, and placement.  If you're going to be installing road signs, make sure you check out the MUTCD to ensure they are in compliance with the national standard.