Note from NMA, October 2021: This alert was posted before the public comment period ended on May 14, 2021. We have crossed out or deactivated the links related to the expired comment period. The information about the proposed changes to the MUTCD is still very much relevant as the FHWA has yet to respond to the comments or indicate its plan regarding its original proposal.
Please note: The NMA call-to-action email of April 13th provided information on proposed changes to how speed limits are determined and the details of how we all must register our opposition to those changes. This alert does the same for another aspect of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) proposal that can have similarly dire consequences for drivers: the proliferation of stop signs.
The FHWA has proposed changes to the rules for posting traffic signs. Buried within the extensive markups to the nearly 800-page Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a truly onerous set of policies that will adversely affect driving for decades to come.
Unless driving advocates like you help us respond en masse in opposition to the federal rule before the public comment period ends on May 14th, the changes are likely to become law.
Under current rules, all-way stop signs are supposed to be posted when an intersection has a lot of accidents or to equalize traffic flow when there are traffic jams on side streets. Objective measures determine when the stop signs should be posted. The proposed changes to the MUTCD would allow all-way stop signs “where pedestrian and/or bicycle movement justify the installation of all-way stop control.”
That raises the potential for stop-sign postings at every intersection on every road where pedestrians or bicyclists may be present. Local traffic engineers, rather than put up with complaints from vocal walking/biking advocates, will likely err on the side of adding more stop signs where no safety concern exists.
The proposed rule would also lower the accident threshold for posting all-way stops signs for safety concerns from five per year to two per year. That alone has the potential to double the number of current stop signs. Further, the new rules are written so that there is an expectation that stop signs should be added: Engineers would be called to review every uncontrolled intersection and add signs unless it can be proved safe without them.
Regarding traffic equalization measures, the new rules would do away with the need for an engineer to measure long delays on side streets before adding a stop sign. The same engineer wouldn’t even have to observe traffic operations to add four-way stop signs. Again, the path of least resistance could easily lead to a multiplying of existing stop signs across the country.
The proliferation of unwarranted stop signs may backfire in terms of safety. As people get used to unnecessary stop signs, they may become less likely to obey them – just as the unrealistic national 55 mph speed limit of years past trained a generation of drivers not to trust speed limits. The opportunity presented for ramped-up enforcement, including stop-sign automated enforcement, might be too tempting for many local governments to resist.
The bottom line: The proposed stop sign rules of Section 2B of the MUTCD that would add posted signs without a quantitative safety analysis and justification by the engineer must be removed in favor of the existing rules in the 2009 Edition of the MUTCD. Your response should state this unequivocally for the record, personalized with some of the information provided above.
How to Post Your Comments to the Federal Register
A reminder of four critical things: Post before May 14th, when the public comment period ends, Post in your own words, using the information above as guidance, Remember your audience, which includes the authors of the MUTCD, the Biden Administration, and members of Congress, and Get every pro-driving person you know to post in opposition to the proposed speed limit and stop sign rules.
If the FHWA is allowed to enact the revision to the MUTCD, streets and highways will decidedly become unfriendly to drivers and make us vulnerable to enforcement measures that have nothing to do with maintaining safe roads.
If you are interested in viewing PDF versions of the MUTCD markup or the clean text with the FHWA changes incorporated, you can find download links here. In the marked-up version, the Signing for Right-of-Way at Intersections, 2B.06, is on pages 65 – 72.