MUTCD Law Changes Part IV: Sign Heights and Lateral Locations for Sign Installations

Thu, 2011-05-19

In MUTCD Law Changes Part III: Color Changes, I discussed some of the major sign color changes and additional options that are required by the 2009 Edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). 

In my next installment, we'll discuss the changes in sign sizes and lettering heights that is mandated in the new 2009 version of MUTCD.

This detailed post includes the standardization of location for sign installation, changes in mounting heights and lateral offsets, and changes in sign orientation as stated in the new MUTCD- 2009 edition. 

These changes ensure that every sign is easy to read, readily recognized, and well understood by road users.

Use these links to jump to the information you are looking for:

Section 2A.16-Standardization of Location

Section 2A.18 Minimum Mounting Height

Section 2A.19 Lateral Offset

Section 2A.20 Sign Orientation

Note: This information is a summary of the various changes in distances for both rural and urban applications.  Please visit the FHWA Website for more information, guidance, and updates

To begin, let’s take a look at the graphical representation of the information discussed in detail below.  Figures 2A-2 and 2A-3 give specific examples of typical installations, heights, and locations (both lateral and at intersections).

Figure 2A-2

Figure 2A-3

Section 2A.16-Standardization of Location


Ensure All Signs Can be Read Safely

The most important consideration for location is to ensure that every posted sign is sufficiently spaced apart to ensure that decisions can be made safely.  One of the factors used to determine the appropriate spacing is the posted speed limit and/or 85th-percentile speed (the speed at which 85% of the traffic is travelling).

Post all Signs on the Right-Hand Side of the Road

All signs should be located on the right hand side of the roadway where they are recognized and understood by road users.  Any signs in other locations should be considered only as supplementary to signs in the normal locations.  Information of a less critical nature should be moved to less critical locations or omitted.  Overloading road users with too much information is not desirable.

Under some circumstances, such as on curves to the right, signs may be placed on median islands or on the left side of the road.  A supplementary sign located on the left-hand side of the roadway may be used on a multi-lane road where traffic in the right might obstruct the view to the right.

In urban areas where crosswalks exist, signs should not be placed within 4 feet in advance of the crosswalk.

Install/Mount Each Sign Individually

Signs should be individually installed on separate posts or mountings.  The exceptions to this are where:

a)     One sign supplements another

b)     Signs are grouped to clarify information to motorists
        (i.e. route or directional signs)

c)     Regulatory signs that do not conflict with each other are grouped
        (i.e. turn prohibition signs posted with one-way signs, or a parking
        regulation sign posted with a speed limit sign)

d)     Street name signs are posted with a stop or yield sign

General Sign Location Info

These standard practices offer the best possible safety for road users.  In every case, Signs should be located so that they:

a)     Optimize nighttime visibility

b)     Are not hidden from view.

c)     Do not obscure each other

d)     Minimize the effects of mud splatter and debris

e)     Are outside the clear zone unless placed on a breakaway or yielding

f)      Do not obscure the sight distance to approaching vehicles on the
        major street for drivers who are stopped on minor-street

Message Priority

With the increase in traffic volumes and the desire to provide road users regulatory, warning, and guidance information, an order of priority for sign installation should be established. 

Since regulatory and warning information is more critical to the road user than guidance information, critical regulatory and warning signs should be displayed rather than guide signs in cases where conflicts occur.  Community wayfinding and acknowledgment guide signs should have a lower priority as to placement than other guide signs.

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Section 2A.18 Minimum Mounting Height


The minimum height is measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the top of the curb.  In the absence of a curb, it is measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the elevation of the near edge of the traveled way.

Minimum Height for Rural Areas

Signs installed at the side of the road in rural areas shall be 5 feet (see Figure 2A-2).  This is measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the elevation of the near edge of the pavement

Minimum Height for Business, Commercial or Residential Areas

Signs installed at the side of the road in business, commercial, or residential areas where parking or pedestrian movements are likely to occur, or where the view of the sign might be obstructed, shall be 7 feet
(see Figure 2A-2).

For either application, the height to the bottom of a secondary sign mounted below another sign may be 1 foot less than the height specified for each area.

Minimum Height for Signs Installed Above Sidewalks

Signs installed above sidewalks shall be 7 feet, measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the sidewalk.  If the bottom of a secondary sign that is mounted below another sign is mounted lower than 7 feet above a pedestrian sidewalk or pathway, the secondary sign shall not project more than 4 inches into the pedestrian facility.

Signs that are placed 30 feet or more from the edge of the traveled way may be installed with a minimum height of 5 feet, which is measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the elevation of the near edge of the pavement.

Directional Signs on Freeways and Expressways

All directional signs, route signs, warning signs, and regulatory signs on freeways and expressways shall be installed with a minimum height of 7 feet, measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the elevation of the near edge of the pavement.

If a secondary sign is mounted below another sign on a freeway or expressway, the major sign shall be installed with a minimum height of 8 feet and the secondary sign shall be installed with a minimum height of 5 feet, measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the elevation of the near edge of the pavement.

Where large signs having an area exceeding 50 square feet are installed on multiple breakaway posts, the clearance from the ground to the bottom of the sign shall be at least 7 feet.

The mounting height may be adjusted when supports are located near the edge of the right-of-way on a steep backslope in order to avoid the sometimes less desirable alternative of placing the sign closer to the roadway.

Overhead Sign Clearance

Overhead signs shall provide a vertical clearance of not less than 17 feet to the sign, light fixture, or sign bridge over the entire width of the pavement and shoulders, except where the structure on which the overhead signs are to be mounted or other structures along the roadway near the sign structure have a lesser vertical clearance.

If the vertical clearance of other structures along the roadway near the sign structure is less than 16 feet, the vertical clearance to an overhead sign structure or support may be as low as 1 foot higher than the vertical clearance of the other structures in order to improve the visibility of the overhead signs.

In special cases it may be necessary to reduce the clearance to overhead signs because of substandard dimensions in tunnels and other major structures such as double-deck bridges.

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Section 2A.19 Lateral Offset


The minimum lateral offset is intended to keep trucks and cars that use the shoulders from striking the signs or supports. All supports should be located as far as practical from the edge of the shoulder.  Every attempt should be taken to place signs behind existing roadside barriers, on over-crossing structures, or other locations that minimize the exposure of the traffic to sign supports.

Where permitted, signs may be placed on existing supports used for other purposes, such as highway traffic signal supports, highway lighting supports, and utility poles.

Minimum Lateral Offset for Overhead Sign Supports

The minimum lateral offset from the edge of the shoulder (or if no shoulder exists, from the edge of the pavement) to the near edge of overhead sign supports (cantilever or sign bridges) shall be 6 feet.  Overhead sign supports shall have a barrier or crash cushion to shield them if they are within the clear zone.

Minimum Lateral Offset for Post-Mounted Signs

The minimum lateral offset should be 12 feet from the edge of the traveled way.   If a shoulder wider than 6 feet exists, the minimum lateral offset for post-mounted signs should be 6 feet from the edge of the shoulder.

Post-mounted sign and object marker supports shall be crashworthy (breakaway, yielding, or shielded with a longitudinal barrier or crash cushion) if within the clear zone.

Signs on Existing Supports

Lesser lateral offsets may be used on connecting roadways or ramps at interchanges, but not less than 6 feet from the edge of the traveled way.   If signs are placed on existing supports, they shall meet other placement criteria contained in the MUTCD guidelines .

On conventional roads in areas where it is impractical to locate a sign with the lateral offset prescribed by this Section, a lateral offset of at least 2 feet may be used.

A lateral offset of at least 1 foot from the face of the curb may be used in business, commercial or residential areas where sidewalk width is limited or where existing poles are close to the curb.

Overhead sign supports and post-mounted sign and object marker supports should not intrude into the usable width of a sidewalk or other pedestrian facility.

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Section 2A.20 Sign Orientation


Unless otherwise provided in this Manual, signs should be vertically mounted at right angles to the direction of, and facing, the traffic that they are intended to serve.

Where mirror reflection from the sign face is encountered to such a degree as to reduce legibility, the sign should be turned slightly away from the road.  Signs that are placed 30 feet or more from the pavement edge should be turned toward the road. On curved alignments, the angle of placement should be determined by the direction of approaching traffic rather than by the roadway edge at the point where the sign is located.

On grades, sign faces may be tilted forward or back from the vertical position to improve the viewing angle.

Source: FHWA’s MUTCD- 2009 Edition

Every standard Stonehouse MUTCD-compliant traffic sign is manufactured using high intensity reflective material that complies with the new minimum retroreflectivity requirements outlined by the FHWA and MUTCD.

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