A Shot Across the Bow: NMA E-Newsletter #645

A number of recent NMA e-newsletters and national email alerts to members have focused on the seismic event brewing with the national standard for traffic control devices: The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) proposed federal rule to massively overhaul the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Among the myriad recommendations are changes to speed zoning and stop sign placement requirements. Either, if adopted, would drastically affect driving as an efficient mode of personal transportation, not to mention as a pleasurable experience.

Your responses to the proposed rule have been stellar. Several hundred NMA advocates have posted their comments in opposition to the suggested speed limit and stop sign changes, with each message personalized to communicate distinct reasons why the FHWA should not amend those sections of the MUTCD. We have published many examples in those earlier e-newsletters (linked below). Now it is time to share with you the NMA’s response to Docket FHWA-2020-0001, the proposed rule in question.

The full 5-page letter submitted for the public record, can be found here. We covered a little more ground than the speed limit/stop sign issues, but those are the core issues that can have the most impact to motorists.

The title of this e-newsletter refers to the Speed Limit Sign, Additional Comment #2 section that starts on page 3 of the letter and is excerpted below. The NMA position is that the FHWA has the statutory responsibility for maintaining national traffic control device standards, an assignment that it is not authorized to relinquish. Specifically:

“Title 49, Section 104 of the U.S. Code establishes that the FHWA is assigned by law the responsibility (via the Secretary of Transportation) for, among other things, traffic control devices. Hence its “ownership” of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices . . .

“On the FHWA’s own page about the MUTCD, it is acknowledged that “The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is the national standard for the design, application, and placement of traffic control devices. Its main purpose is to provide uniformity and consistency so road users know what to expect no matter where their travels take them.”


“With this proposed rule, the FHWA is recommending the optional use of the proven element — a traffic speed distribution study and determination of the 85th percentile speed — for such standardization. At the same time, the rule requires no specific alternative method to ensure that engineers who disregard the speed study option follow a procedure that results in consistent speed limit methodology.”


“By downgrading from mandatory to optional the current requirement to conduct a speed distribution study as a necessary step to determine a proper speed limit, the FHWA would be unlawfully forsaking the authority assigned to it by the U.S. Congress to maintain a national standard for speed limit postings. The proposed rule would delegate that decision-making to thousands of engineers in unique jurisdictions around the country, creating a patchwork quilt of speed limit regulations that, in effect, would do away with the notion of a uniform national standard. The FHWA cannot, must not, shirk its responsibility for maintaining this important standard. The current 2009 version of the MUTCD with Revision Numbers 1 and 2 incorporated provides those requirements. An amended MUTCD per the proposed rule would not.”


The Federal Highway Administration received over 26,000 responses during the public comment period that ended on May 14th, including nearly 10,000 on that last day. It will likely take months for the agency to sort through the postings and respond in issuing its final rule for the MUTCD. We hope the FHWA will take our warning seriously that it can’t do what it proposes to do to Section 2B.21, Speed Limit Sign. We will keep you apprised of any developments.

Previous NMA communications on FHWA-2020-0001, the proposed rule to modify the MUTCD:

Equity and Sustainability, E-Newsletter #637

All Hands on Deck, E-Newsletter #640

More Hands on Deck, E-Newsletter #641

Equity and the MUTCD, E-Newsletter #644

Anti-Driving Regulations Will Become Law Unless You Act Now, Part 1 – Speed Limits

Anti-Driving Regulations Will Become Law Unless You Act Now, Part 2, – Stop Signs

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