NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

READ THIS: Local Governments Told to Buy New Street Signs

December 3, 2010

The federal government says THIS is harder to read than This.  It's just one reason the Federal Highway Administration is ordering all local governments -- from the tiniest towns to the largest cities -- to go out and buy new street signs that federal bureaucrats say are easier to read, says Jonathan Karl.

The rules are part of a tangle of regulations included in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.  The 800-plus page manual tells local government they:

  • Should increase the size of the letters on street signs from the current 4 inches to 6 inches on all roads with speed limits over 25 miles per hour. The target date for this to be completed is January 2012.
  • Install signs with new reflective letters more visible at night by January 2018.
  • Whenever street name signs are changed for any reason, they can no longer be in ALL CAPS.
  • In Milwaukee, Wis., for example, this will cost the cash-strapped city nearly $2 million -- double the city's entire annual budget for traffic control.

The Federal Highway Administration says it's concerned about safety.  The new regulations, which were written under the Bush administration, are designed to make sure that signs are easier to read for an aging population, says Karl.

Whether or not requiring cities and towns to replace all their street signs improves safety, it would undoubtedly be a windfall for the multibillion-dollar-a-year sign industry.  The American Traffic Safety Services Association -- which represents companies that make signs and the reflective material used on them -- lobbied hard for the new rules.  And at least one key study used to justify the changes was funded by the 3M Corporation, one of the few companies that make the reflective material now required on street signs, says Karl.

Source: Jonathan Karl, "READ THIS: Local Governments Told to Buy New Street Signs," ABC News, November 29, 2010.

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