Full-Color Messaging, Part 1: MUTCD Graphics Set the Guideline for Message Comprehension


As the population of American motorists continues to grow and diversify, standard MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) graphics have never been more important.

In multi-lingual communities such as Southern Texas or New Brunswick, DOTs and other transportation agencies are relying heavily on symbols or symbols in conjunction with text rather than text-only signage. The universal meaning of these symbols allows agencies to deliver recognizable messages to people who would otherwise have to translate text. When there’s a standard symbol that fits the situation, DMS users should look to the MUTCD for guidance not only because it’s the national standard, but also because graphics are simply good at getting the message across.

A study from the University of Rhode Island noted 25 per cent faster message recognition with DMS graphics. With every full-color DMS installed for this purpose, the MUTCD standard becomes more important than ever.

Today, agencies look to the MUTCD to help them create effective full-color messages to show on these displays.

Chapter 2L of the MUTCD defines and provides guidelines for several DMS applications:

  • Incident management and rout diversion
  • Warning of adverse weather conditions
  • Special event applications associated with traffic control or conditions
  • Control at crossing situations
  • Lane, ramp and roadway control
  • Priced or other types of managed lanes
  • Travel times
  • Warning situations
  • Traffic regulations
  • Speed control
  • Destination guidance

The MUTCD graphic guidelines largely reflect those for static signage, including specifications for background/foreground colors, symbol dimensions, visibility and overall size.

From section 2L.04.13 of the MUTCD:

Some CMS that employ newer technologies have the capability to display an exact duplicate of a standard sign or other sign legend using standard symbols, the Standard Alphabets and letter forms, route shields, and other typical sign legend elements with no apparent loss of resolution or recognition to the road user when compared with a static version of the same sign legend. Such signs are of the full-matrix type and can typically display full-color legends. Use of such technologies for new CMS is encouraged for greater legibility of their displays and enhanced recognition of the message as it pertains to regulatory, warning, or guidance information.

Review the rest of the MUTCD specifications for changeable message signs.

In Part 2 of our Full-Color Messaging series, we’ll discuss the importance and details of the NTCIP v2 protocol for the world of full-color DMS.

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