MUTCD Requirements for Retroreflectivity


If you own or manage a large parcel with roadways that are open to public access, you’ll want to read this article.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) publishes a guideline called the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).  Chances are, unless you work in a public works department or for a road crew, you haven’t had much cause to read through this manual.  In brief, it’s a comprehensive guide which indicates the requirements for regulatory and warning signs, as well as other types of signage and traffic control devices.  It establishes standards for style, color, size, mounting heights, locations and the retroreflectivity of signs (Retroreflectivity is the measured efficiency of a material to return light back to its source). 

While only one-quarter of all travel occurs at night, about half of the traffic fatalities occur during night time hours. In part, this is due to 3 key factors: 1. As we age, our night time vision progressively deteriorates; 2. Recent advances in headlight technology now directs more light toward the road.  This helps to cut down on glare to other drivers, but also reduces the night-time brightness of road signs; and 3.  Signs fade and deteriorate over time due to weather and UV degradation.  In order to combat these issues, the FHWA has adopted new traffic sign retroreflectivity requirements for regulatory, warning & guide signs (parking signs are excluded from this requirement).


You’re probably thinking – what does all of this have to do with me, right?  Well, in 2007, the FHWA issued an amendment to the MUTCD to clarify that ANY roadway that is open to public travel needs to abide by these rules. This includes ALL privately owned property where the public travels (ie:  Retail Centers, Public Parks, Hospitals, Office Buildings, Airports, Schools, Apartment Complexes; Entertainment Centers; Hotels, Residential Developments, etc, etc.)


Private property owners are being held to the same standards and deadlines for signage updates as municipalities & agencies.

No fines or warnings will be mailed to you from the federal government if you don’t comply with these regulations (it isn’t that type of law).  Instead, non-compliance puts you at risk of exposure to tort liability if someone gets into a car accident on your property.  Talk with your risk management team or your company’s insurance carrier to better understand how the MUTCD might affect you.


Federal Highway Administration:  FHWA - Night time Visibility

American Traffic Safety Services Association:

ATSSA Brochure on Retroreflectivity and MUTCD Compliance for Private Property Owners: ATSSA Brochure

Understanding Minimum Reflectivity:  3M Brochure

Updated "KNOW YOUR RETRO" paper FHWA-SA-07-020:  Retroreflectivity Brochure - Federal highway Administration