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MUTCD Formatting Requirements for Traffic Sign Lettering

Thursday November 21, 2019

Ever since the 1930s, traffic signs have played an important role in promoting a safe and functional transportation infrastructure in the United States. Also known simply as road signs, they are designed to guide motorists safely to their intended destination. Whether it's a regulatory, warning or guide sign -- the three main types of traffic signs -- it probably uses the format dictated in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). So, what are the MUTCD's formatting requirements for traffic signs?

Uppercase Letters for Most Traffic Signs

Although there are exceptions, most traffic signs are required to use uppercase letters. The MUTCD says that all letters should be uppercase unless otherwise specified. As shown in the "ONE WAY" traffic sign displayed above, uppercase letters offer an attention-grabbing, easy-to-see design. When lowercase or a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters are used, motorists may struggle to see and read the sign, resulting in a higher risk of collision. To promote safe roadways, the MUTCD generally requires traffic signs to use all uppercase letters.

Combination of Uppercase and Lowercase Letters for Street and Place Names

For traffic signs featuring the name of a street or place, however, the MUTCD requires the use of a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters. This format involves capitalizing the first letter of each word, followed by the use of lowercase letters for the proceeding letters.

The reason street and place name signs use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters is because they are less important than other, conventional traffic signs. Therefore, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has included this requirement in the MUTCD.

Height Requirements for Mixed-Case Letters

When a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters are used, the MUTCD requires a specific height. To comply with the MUTCD, the height of the lowercase letters must be no more than three-fourths of that of the uppercase letters.

Rounded Corners Except for the Stop Sign

All traffic signs, with the exception of the stop sign, are required to use rounded corners. With sharp corners, stop signs stand out while attracting simultaneously attracting the attention of motorists.

It's important to note that not all states follow the MUTCD's requirements. While many states embrace the MUTCD, others have their own guidelines and requirements for traffic signs. If a state uses the MUTCD, though, its traffic signs must follow these formatting requirements.


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