A Layperson’s Guide To Traffic Control Devices

So, do you want to learn about traffic control devices? Well, you’re already quite familiar with one kind of traffic control device: traffic signals. Every time you pull up to a major intersection and observe the familiar red, green, and yellow lights of the traffic signal, you’re seeing a traffic control device in action.

Traffic signals are among the most widely used traffic control devices and help regulate traffic flow by allowing vehicles to take turns at intersections or other congested areas. But traffic signals aren’t the only method of traffic control. In fact, hundreds of traffic control devices and methods are used in various transportation zones to alert motorists and pedestrians about road conditions or remind them of regulations like speed limits. Other common traffic control devices include:

  • Stop signs
  • Construction and road work signs
  • Tourist information signs
  • Landmark and point-of-interest signs
  • Speed limit signs

What are traffic control devices?

The 2003 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets And Highways (MUTCD), published by the United States Federal Highway Administration, defines traffic control devices as “signs, signals, markings, and other devices used to regulate, warn, or guide traffic, placed on, over, or adjacent to a street, highway, pedestrian facility, or bikeway by authority of a public agency having jurisdiction.”

In the latest (2009) edition of the MUTCD, the definition for traffic control devices is slightly modified to refer to “signs, signals, markings, and other devices used to regulate, warn, or guide traffic, placed on, over, or adjacent to a street, highway, pedestrian facility, bikeway, or private road open to public travel by authority of a public agency or official having jurisdiction, or, in the case of a private road, by authority of the private owner or private official having jurisdiction.”

Traffic control devices are grouped into several categories, including:

  • Signs
  • Markings
  • Traffic signals
  • Beacons
  • Temporary traffic control devices
  • Channelizing devices
  • Barriers
  • Traffic control devices for crossings

The 7 major categories of traffic control signs

  • Regulatory signs: This category of traffic signs includes stop signs, yield signs, speed limit signs, one way signs, no turn on left signs, no right turn on red signs, no parking signs, and weight limit signs.
  • Warning signs: indicate a potential hazard, obstacle, or condition requiring special attention. Examples include
  • Guide signs: This category of traffic signage includes highway route markers, mile markers, street signs, toll road signs, service signs, rest area signs, and exit signs
  • Specific service logo signs: This type of traffic sign usually alerts drivers to nearby food, lodging, gas stations, camping spots, or attractions.
  • Tourist-oriented directional signs: Tourist signs are exclusively used to advertise facilities that derive the majority of their income or foot traffic from people who don’t live in the local area. This includes scenic landscapes, travel rest areas, historic villages, and similar locations.
  • Recreational and cultural interest area signs: These road signs guide motorists and pedestrians to specific facilities or activities within a general location. For example, you’d see recreational and cultural interest road signs near a national park, as well as various areas within the national park.
  • Emergency management signs: This type of signage includes area closed signs, radioactive fallout, bio-hazardous areas, top safe speed signs, permit required signs, emergency aid center signs, and directional shelter signs like tornado shelters.

Types of pavement markings used in traffic control

  • Yield pavement markings
  • Work zone markings
  • Lane markings
  • Intersection markings
  • Two-way traffic markings
  • Freeway entrance and exit markings
  • High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane markings

Types of traffic signals (categorized by operational type)

  • Pre-timed traffic signals
  • Fully-actuated traffic signals:
  • Semi-actuated traffic signals

Types of beacons used in traffic control

  • Circular Flashing Beacon (CFB)
  • Circular Rapid Flashing Beacon (CRFB)
  • Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB)
  • Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB)

Channelizer devices used to guide and control traffic

  • Traffic cones
  • Traffic barrels
  • Vertical panels
  • Delineators
  • Barricades
  • Portable barriers

Barriers and barricades used in traffic control

  • Plastic jersey barriers
  • Folding traffic barricades
  • Traffic barrels
  • Ballast-filled barrels

Why are traffic control devices important?

The primary goal of traffic control is to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians by regulating traffic on public roadways and in sensitive areas like work and school zones. Traffic control devices, like traffic signals, guide motorists and pedestrians.

In Traffic Control Devices: Uses and Misuses, a document published on the city website for Napa, California, it’s noted that the all traffic control devices should:

  • Fulfill a need
  • Command attention
  • Convey a simple, clear meaning
  • Command respect from road users
  • Give adequate time for response

Without traffic control signs in place, it would be much more difficult for people to know what is expected from them when driving through various areas. This would cause much frustration and confusion and increase the number of crashes.

What are common traits of all traffic control devices?

Traffic signs, signals and pavement markings come in an array of colors, shapes and sizes depending on their purpose. But all traffic control devices are installed with the following concerns in mind:

  • Clarity: All traffic control devices are designed to convey a single message as clearly as possible. Clear communication is critical when it comes to controlling traffic flow efficiently.
  • Uniformity: Establishing a standard appearance and design for traffic signs and other traffic control devices helps drivers quickly recognize what they’re seeing and react accordingly, preserving safety for everyone.
  • Necessity: When traffic signs are installed unnecessarily, they can cause unnecessary delays and
  • Prudence: Proper placement of signs and signals is vital because it impacts whether drivers have enough time to respond in time.

Common problems with traffic control devices

Just because a traffic sign or traffic signal is installed doesn’t mean a certain area is necessarily safer or properly controlled. Many problems and scenarios can occur that negate the effectiveness of traffic signage and other traffic control measures. These scenarios include:

  • Improper placement
  • Wrong device being used
  • Device is wrong color, shape, or size
  • Device becomes obsolete due to changes in land or traffic
  • Lack of traffic signs
  • Poor maintenance

Proper placement is vital for traffic signs and other devices to be effective

For example, signs must be positioned at key points so that they can be seen from any angle, without distracting from the road itself. Poorly placed signs can make it difficult for drivers to see them or even recognize them as being legitimate traffic regulations. Proper placement also ensures everyone is aware of the laws and regulations that govern how we use the roads. Ultimately, proper placement keeps everyone safe and promotes responsible driving habits.

Using the wrong device can endanger drivers and pedestrians

It may seem straightforward to place a stop sign in a certain location, but part of traffic control is determining which control method regulates traffic without causing unnecessary delays, excessive violations, or unnecessary diversions.

The incorrect color, shape, or size of traffic control device decreases safety

If traffic signs are too small or too large, then they may be difficult to read and understand by drivers. The same issue applies if traffic signs are not the right color; if they don’t match the expected traffic regulation then they will be confusing and create dangerous situations on the roadways.

Obsolete traffic signs or signals are ineffective and dangerous

When a traffic sign becomes obsolete because of land changes, traffic conditions, or outdated design or technology, its effectiveness decreases and it may even become a road hazard. For example, a stop sign placed at a low-volume traffic intersection can become obsolete if it becomes too faded to be legible or if traffic volume increases. In scenarios like this, it becomes necessary to install a more appropriate traffic control so there aren’t unnecessary delays or increased crashes.

If traffic control devices are required but absent, delays or danger ensue

Besides traffic sign obsolescence, the absence of traffic control devices in areas where they are needed can also endanger motorists and pedestrians.

Traffic signs, signals, and other devices must be maintained to be effective

Going back to our faded stop sign example, it’s vital that road signs and other traffic control devices are properly maintained.

Do you need traffic control devices? Trust Safety Network, Inc.

Since 1999, Safety Network has been a leader in road safety, providing superior traffic control services and supplies and ensuring workers and motorists are secure on California’s roadways. We can help with all aspects of your traffic control needs:

  • Traffic control plans: Our expertly designed traffic plans will reduce the risk of accidents, minimize congestion, and eliminate traffic bottlenecks for projects large or small. Allow us to work with you and create the perfect traffic control plan that meets all your needs!
  • Traffic signs and supplies: Since 2014, we’ve fulfilled the traffic sign orders for government agencies and private companies. We’d love to help you find the perfect signage for your needs. We can also help with consulting and traffic sign installation.

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