Tag Archives: Caution

Signing work zones sometimes seems illogical

The in basket: As I’ve driven around the Western states, I’ve often seen two things that strike me as peculiar in traffic control at construction zones.

Often I find electronic message boards with a message on two or three consecutive screens that come and go too quickly for me to read the entire warning Yet the first screen of a multiple screen message often reads only “Caution”.

Well, “Duh,” I say to myself when I see those signs. The very presence of the sign implies something coming up that would require caution, and it seems like that part of the message could be eliminated or that screen could be devoted to some other part of the warning.

Also, I often find myself warned of an upcoming construction zone miles ahead of the actual obstruction, to the point I’ve sometimes forgotten about it by the time I get there.

I know that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a federal standard for all manner of highway issues, sometimes imposes what seem like odd limitations on state and local highway officials.

I asked if that’s the reason for those peculiarities.

The out basket: Frank Newboles, an official with the state Department of Transportation, says he doesn’t think the MUTCD requires the word “Caution,” but it isn’t entirely quiet on the subject of those signs.

“For work zones, we use the MUTCD requirement of amaximum of two message panels of three lines each.  In practice, these requirements are routinely violated …. generally by putting too much info on the sign. Full matrix (signs) sometimes create problems if the message designer gets too ‘creative,’ since the full matrix allows graphics, etc.”

Such deviations from the rules are discouraged, he said.

As for advance warning of upcoming work zones, he said, this state “has modified the MUTCD work zone sign spacing requirements to be more specific to our diverse highway/work zone conditions.”

Those modifications detail how far in advance the warning signs are placed, and require three or more signs along 1,500 feet of a freeway, for example, 800 feet on a rural highway, down to  hundred feet on a city street.

“The number of signs, spacing and messages have been standardized to apply to a wide range of drivers and work zone conditions,” he said, “and not all drivers process the information the same way. The initial signs are intended to be a more general warning and as (a driver) gets closer to the work zone or flagger the messages are more specific to the exact nature of the work zone condition or expected driver response action.

“We will continue to monitor and address signing issues in the field,” Frank said, “and are continuing to train flaggers,

inspectors and others to improve our work zone conditions.

“We have a certain amount of redundancy built in to compensate for the possibility of (drivers) missing a sign or message.”