Erosion of the Uniform Traffic Code Continues: NMA E-Newsletter #421

By James C. Walker, NMA Life Member and Executive Director of the NMA Foundation 

Our news feed of January 24th had this article: Blue police lines on local roads could be safety risk. Several New Jersey communities painted blue lines in between double yellow lines on the roads to honor the police. This is a violation of the federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) that all states are required to follow.  The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) objected and told these communities to remove the blue lines.  In the MUTCD, the only permitted use of blue pavement markings is for handicapped parking areas. 

UNIFORM is the most important word in the MUTCD. It is categorically wrong and sometimes dangerous to have places that use different styles of traffic control devices that will not be recognized by some drivers, because that lack of recognition may lead to confusion, crashes, injuries and deaths. 

Violations of the MUTCD take many forms.  The general rule for posted speed limits is to be within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speeds of free flowing traffic under good conditions.  Some venues stay pretty close, but in others you will search in vain for a main road with a speed limit set less than 8 or 10 mph below the 85th percentile speeds.  How is a driver supposed to understand that it is legal in one area to drive safely at about the 85th percentile speed, but in another area that safe driving behavior makes the driver a violator or a criminal?  It is not rational for drivers to encounter areas with completely different methods of setting speed limits, some set to maximize safety and others set to enable lucrative speed traps to punish safe drivers for profits. 

Similarly, some cities time traffic lights with yellow intervals adequate for about 85% of the drivers, but some time them about one second too short to make red light cameras issue more tickets to safe drivers for profits.  But enforcement for profits is 100% wrong, 100% of the time. 

The NMA attended three sessions of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices that advises the FHWA on improvements to the MUTCD to try to get stronger uniform engineering requirements for speed limits and traffic lights.  But we couldn’t get any meaningful changes, even when the FHWA representative to the Signals Committee made a proposal almost identical to what we wanted for adequate yellow light intervals set for safety. 

The principle of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control devices is brilliant. The actuality is a failure to enforce those goals.

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