The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a publication of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. All U.S. states are required to be in general compliance with this manual, which regulates how traffic control devices (such as signs, markings, and traffic signals) can be used on public roadways and bikeways. A new version is released every 8-12 years, following a federally required rule-making process for any new or changed regulation that applies to States or the public.
The last complete version of the MUTCD was issued in 2008, and some noteworthy revisions were added in 2012, with a new MUTCD expected in 2023. The League led a grassroots campaign to shape a better MUTCD that would encourage safer streets and better biking.
Our efforts to shape the next MUTCD
In December 2020, the Federal Highway Administration issued a Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) for an update to the MUTCD. The League of American Bicyclists, and its representatives on the NCUTCD, began reviewing the NPA immediately and corrected an error that would have banned bicycles on many roads.
The National Roadway Safety Strategy released by USDOT in January 2022 targets the adoption of a new MUTCD in 2023. It also says that FHWA will "Identify proposed future changes not possible via the current rulemaking effort and further update the Manual to promote the safety, inclusion, and mobility of all users and provide for the protection of vulnerable road users. Initiate four-year cycles to update this national standard for keeping current with the latest research, practices, and technologies."
To find the League's comments on the MUTCD and other information about the proposed amendment, please see this series of blogs:
May 10, 2021 / Demand a Manual for Safer Streets »
APRIL 2, 2021 / A ONCE-IN-A-DECADE OPPORTUNITY FOR BETTER ROADS »
APRIL 28, 2021 / THE MUTCD: REFRAME FOR SAFETY, REWRITE FOR THE FUTURE »
APRIL 29, 2021 / SEPARATED BIKE LANES, AUTOMATED VEHICLES, AND THE MUTCD »
The League also asked for changes to the MUTCD in two letters prior to the comment period. We still support these changes and want them reflected in the next MUTCD. See our Letter about speed limit setting, and Letter about interim approvals of NCUTCD proposals.
Background on the MUTCD
The rules for traffic control devices (traffic signs, pavement markings, traffic signals) are highly regulated. In practice, traffic controls must appear and be discussed in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to be used by most communities. This system was set up to help insure that traffic signs’ appearance and meaning is the same everywhere in the U.S., but it makes it hard to get innovative treatments into widespread use.
The MUTCD does a very good job of ensuring that you can drive anywhere in the United States and not be too confused about what signs and signals mean. However, it can cause problems for the development of bicycle infrastructure because bicycle infrastructure does not have the 70+ year history of federal and state government support enjoyed by motor vehicle infrastructure. For many years bicycle infrastructure was not built, or when it was it was limited or experimental. If we are going to build a Bicycle Friendly America for Everyone we need bicycle infrastructure that is widespread, uniform, safe, comfortable, and easy to access. To help make this happen, the League of American Bicyclists has been a sponsor of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices since 2012. This sponsorship allows the League to have two representatives on the Bicycle Technical Committee who can advocate for better bicycle infrastructure and the signals, signs, and other devices needed for them to be implemented safely and successfully.
Since 2012 the National Committee has approved many proposals for long-desired bicycle treatments. These include treatments approved, in part, thanks to the work of League representatives, such as:
- bicycle boxes at intersections,
- buffered striping,
- bicycle signal indications,
- contra-flow bike lanes, and
- many applications of green pavement color coatings.
These treatments have added to prior successes such as shared lane markings (sharrows), Bikes May Use Full Lane signs, and bike route system signs.
The last MUTCD was adopted after public comment in 2009. Despite a goal to adopt a new MUTCD every 5 years, the Federal Government has not proceeded with this final step, and the tentative date to publish the notice has been set back many times. The members of the Bicycle Technical Committee and National Committee continue to work and develop new designs.
The League is proud of its support of the National Committee and committed to improving the MUTCD. We appreciate the support of our members for engaging in the National Committee process and working on institutional issues that affect all bicyclists in the United States.
How the MUTCD is created (and the NCUTCD)
The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) develops and reviews potential changes to the U.S. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). LAB is a voting member of the committee where we advise and assist in development of new provisions and changes that facilitate bicycling. Other committee members represent states, Counties, Cities, private consultants, and representatives of nationally based non-profit associations who are interested in participating. Most committee members are experienced traffic engineers, highway engineers, or transportation planners with interests in traffic controls and regulations.
The Committee makes recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to add or change the MUTCD on an ongoing basis. Most committee-approved changes are eventually included in the manual, but the changes must go through an internal consensus building process and the must await final action by FHWA. The NCUTCD has generally not recommended any proposals that LAB has strongly opposed. Many proposals have been adjusted to assure that they properly consider and are generally positive for bicycling.
NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee
Most proposals that affect bicycling are developed by this committee. LAB representatives generally sit on this committee but observe and ultimately vote upon the actions of other technical committees when bicycling is involved. Several other League members and member organizations also sit on this committee. Other technical committees focus on specific sections of the MUTCD, such as traffic signs, traffic signals, or construction zones.