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Traffic Control Devices

When you’re navigating the streets and highways of the Nation, it’s important to understand that every traffic control device you encounter—from stop signs to road markings—has been carefully planned and placed to serve one very specific purpose: to manage traffic and ensure everyone’s safety. These devices take a potentially chaotic melee of vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists and turn it into a dance of stop-and-go movements.

Traffic control devices come in all shapes and sizes, but they largely fall into several categories. The most basic category is the signal, which encompasses any device that controls the movement of traffic through a highway intersection or roadway. This includes traffic signals, warning beacons, and supplemental signs that supplement the main signal.

The next major category is the directional arrow, which provides guidance to motorists and pedestrians on a roadway. This can include arrows on the side of the road, overhead directional signage, and even electronic signposts that show directions. The final major category of traffic control devices is the raised pavement marker, which are any markers on the road surface that are higher than normal to convey a specific message or instruction. This can include everything from stop lines to shared lane markings (sharrows).

While the vast majority of traffic control devices follow a standard design, some unique situations often arise that require modification or interpretation of the standards. The ability to experiment with new traffic control devices in a controlled environment is vital to ensuring continued highway safety and efficiency. The process for requesting permission to use a new traffic control device should be followed to make sure that the appropriate safety concerns are taken into consideration and that the proposed device is not merely a novelty or gimmick.

A request to use a new traffic control device should contain a statement outlining the circumstances under which the device will be used, the device’s application, and the ways in which it differs from the standard. The request should also describe how the device was developed, including any engineering study that led to the decision to utilize it. The request should also include an explanation of the need to change the standard and how the new device will meet this need.

Although it may seem obvious, many motorists are unaware that they are required to obey the traffic control devices of their jurisdiction. Failing to do so could lead to costly fines, a driver’s license suspension, or even a jail sentence. Understanding the basic categories of traffic control devices and how they work can help you avoid a misdemeanor conviction for violating these regulations. In addition, a thorough understanding of the function of traffic control devices can make your commute safer and more efficient—and perhaps even make you a star player at trivia night.