Understanding the MUTCD Retro Rule

MUTCD Retro Rule Cover

Starting with the publishing of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) agencies have been scrambling to understand what they need to do to be compliant with the rules governing retroreflectivity minimums of their traffic signs in use.
Simply put, the retroreflectivity requirements state that every agency with signs under their jurisdiction is required to implement an assessment or management method designed to maintain sign retroreflectivity at or above the established minimum levels.
Recent changes passed on May 14, 2012 adjusted the compliance date for this mandate to May 2014 to have a program in place that covers at minimum regulatory and warning signs by the new compliance date. While the new MUTCD compliance date does not require inclusion or replacement of other signs by a particular date, the FHWA has instructed agencies to add other sign types to their selected management method as resources and competing priorities allow.

This excerpt is taken from Learn How to be MUTCD Retro Rule Compliant Without Busting Your Budget, for additional information download the free MUTCD Compliance eBook from Professional Pavement Products.

Regardless of the established compliance date, agencies are still liable for all signs under their jurisdiction that do not meet minimums should a tort liability situation arise. Being protected in that instance is the main driver for agency compliance, however, Federal and State funding could also be affected down the road if a sign monitoring program is not in place.

The Approved Methods for MUTCD Retro Rule Compliance

There are currently five approved methods for meeting the MUTCD requirements of monitoring and maintaining retroreflectivity minimums of traffic signs. Agencies can use a matrix of methods as necessary to ensure minimums are met within their means. The five approved methods consist of:
RoadVista 922 and Stop Sign

RoadVista 922 Retroreflectometer

  1. Blanket Replacement of every sign in a particular region on a set schedule (typically every 10 years)
  2. Scheduled replacement at the end of the Manufacturer’s Suggested Sign Life (typically 10 years)
  3. Replacement as determined by Control Signs in a sign yard whose useful life is determined by periodic readings with a retroreflectometer
  4. Nighttime Inspections by a Trained Sign Inspector that meets specific qualifications in a specific vehicle setup with a dedicated driver and supplemented by the use of control panels
  5. Use of a Retroreflectometer to do periodic assessments of individual signs and replace once the sign is close to or falls under the established minimum levels
Regardless of what method(s) is implemented, at the backbone of a successful program is having proper processes and data management methods established to ensure no sign goes unattended for any extended period of time opening the potential for expensive tort liability.

Considerations when Choosing a Method

While each method has its benefits and drawbacks, there is a misperception that employing a retroreflectometer to gather actual retroreflectivity readings is an expensive and timely endeavor in an economic time when resources are incredibly tight. The truth could not be further from this opinion.
The use of a handheld sign retroreflectometer is arguably the most proficient method available for determining a sign’s field performance and need for replacement. Retroreflectometers provide a scientific reading that represents a sign’s nighttime performance in a single scientific reading without subjectivity while simultaneously allowing for a safe daytime physical inspection of the post, hardware, and general sign condition.
Agencies currently utilizing a retroreflectometer to determine sign performance often find that their signs are significantly outperforming the manufacturers’ expectations, often by as much as 10-20 years. Using a retroreflectometer to determine sign performance has actually provided a cost savings of 30-40% annually over the blanket replacement, suggested sign life, and control signs methods simply by extending the usable service of a significant portion of existing signs in the field.
Based on the national average of loaded sign replacement cost at $150 per sign, the initial cost of a retroreflectometer is typically paid for by saving less than 65 signs that would have been replaced using another method.
Another consideration of the blanket replacement, suggested sign life, and control signs methods is the increase in odds of tort liability due to signs in need of early replacement not being individually monitored for performance degradation.
Visual nighttime inspection is another popular method because of the perception of relatively low startup costs and the appeal of inspecting individual signs for retroreflectivity performance degradation. However, visual nighttime inspection has several hidden costs that range from approved vehicle specifications to typically higher resource pay and training costs to posing a higher safety risk for employees having to drive around at night to high subjectivity that may not withstand tort scrutiny.
The use of retroreflectometer to get actual retroreflectivity readings of individual signs is the only method where all signs are truly inventoried, actively monitored using hard data, and enables physical inspection during the safety of the day while performing other duties in the field.
RoadVista Laserlux Retroreflectometer

RoadVista Laserlux G7 Retroreflectometer for Measuring Pavement Markings

Retroreflectometers from RoadVista

For additional information on retroreflectivity and highway safety download the RoadVista Retroreflectivity Guidebook

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