Temporary Traffic Control: Codes, Standards, and Litigation

Expert Institute Expert

Written by
— Updated on June 23, 2020

Temporary Traffic Control: Codes, Standards, and Litigation

Traffic Control Expert Witness

News anchors frequently refer to a section of barrier as a barricade, and vice versa.  Most people don’t know the difference between the two— however, temporary and permanent traffic control could not be more different. Permanent traffic control includes everything from traffic signals, stop signs and striping to mile markers along the roadway. These are in place for normal roadway conditions. Temporary traffic controls, on the other hand, are used to change a motorist’s driving pattern.

Temporary traffic control is used not only for construction and maintenance, but also during emergency response to events such as floods, crashes and landslides. It can also used for planned events, such as parades, marathons, festivals and farmers’ markets. Temporary traffic control is mandated to notify the motorist of changes in the roadway pattern.

Motorists respond to temporary traffic control daily, without even realizing why. I have been training people in the temporary traffic control industry for over 20 years, yet still marvel at how subliminal the materials used are. Even roadway construction workers and maintenance workers are unfamiliar with the colors and shapes of various signs.

There is a reason why a stop sign is octagonal, with a red background with a white border and letters; likewise, why a speed limit sign is rectangular with a white background and a black border and letters. These are subliminal messages we have all been learning our entire lives. Thus, regulations are in place that dictate not only shapes and colors but also materials used to make the signs, as well as the height of a device and how they are used.

The distance between signs, for example, is based on a motorist’s perception and reaction time, and also on how long it would take a driver to forget the information they saw. These regulations are defined in the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

Documents – Federal

The Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) from the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA), Code of Federal Regulations Title 23 (specifically 23 CFR 655.603) adopts the MUTCD as the national standard for any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel. This is a living document— therefore it changes occasionally. The most recent edition was set in 2009 with revision 2, the previous being the 2003 edition. All states are given 2 years to adopt the newer versions.

Adoption dates of federal manuals do matter in legal cases. I recently testified in a case regarding a car crash, that occurred one week before the latest MUTCD edition went into effect. Therefore, I needed to reference the previous MUTCD edition.

The MUTCD is comprised of nine Parts, which then divide into Chapters, and then Sections. Parts are given a numerical identification, such as Part 2— Signs. Chapters are identified by the Part number and a letter, such as Chapter 2B– Regulatory Signs, Barricades, and Gates. Sections are identified by the Chapter number and letter followed by a decimal point and a number, such as Section 2B.03– Size of Regulatory Signs. Temporary traffic control is specifically addressed in Part 6 of the Federal MUTCD.

Documents – State

Temporary traffic control is a minimum basic requirement for all roads open to the public, applying to travel anywhere in the United States. Notice I stated the “minimum.” State jurisdictions can choose to go beyond these minimum requirements by adopting a state specific MUTCD. Here is a map from FHWA showing state adoptions. A state MUTCD adoption establishes a state standard for any street, highway, or bicycle trail open to public travel.

Then there are numerous other documents which may include additional requirements. It can get overwhelming; these documents will have revisions dates which must be addressed in a case. Each state may have a specific set of what are called “design standards” or “standard drawings.” which can detail a layout of temporary traffic control or how devices are to be used. For example, if a state has a set of standard drawings it would be applicable to state roads. However, the county or city a state road passes through may simply reference the federal MUTCD.


Regarding contracts, the American Traffic Safety Services Association created a document called Quality Standards For Traffic Control Devices which shows a level of acceptability of materials used for Temporary Traffic Control. There are crash worthy requirements based on testing required by FHWA under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 350; furthermore, there is also an updated crash worthy requirement of Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware (MASH). However, each state can determine what is known as an Approved Products List (APL) or Qualified Products List (QPL), which lists specific manufacturers and specific models that may be used on their roadways.

Therefore, training requirements for manufacturers vary dramatically from one jurisdiction to the next. The proof of training and availability may be called out in a construction contract or a permit. There are many documents to be familiar with based on jurisdiction, type of work being completed and numerous other conditions.

Take, for instance, a construction project— the contractor has a contract with the roadway owner. There are also other documents added in the contract for reference. The applicable MUTCD is usually referenced, but there may also be others such as a Standard Specification for Road and Bridge Construction. This will usually include additional information necessary to that particular project. There may also be a set of plans which can include a temporary traffic control plan showing a drawing of the intended traffic pattern and devices required. I have seen a massive project with over 3,000 temporary traffic control pans sheets alone. That did not include the 12,000 pages of contract and all of the other documents included in that project.

Due to the complexity of documentation on Temporary Traffic Control, and especially jurisdiction-specific documentation, it is advisable to hire an expert on the topic when presented with a legal case. I have had several attorneys state to me that they had used experts in the past who were unfamiliar either with the contracts and permits, or the temporary traffic control portion of a case. Using an expert who is familiar with all of the documents and understands the correct hierarchy is a necessity.

Expert Witness Bio E-009738

E-009738This expert specializes in roadway safety for emergency responders, temporary traffic controls for roadway construction and site safety, and special event temporary traffic controls. She is certified in Traffic Control, Pavement Marking, and Barrier Selection, three facets paramount to the field of traffic control and public safety. She has been hands on in the field for more than 25 years and is currently the President of a Traffic Control Consulting Firm.

Location: MO
Certified, ATSSA Traffic Control Supervisor
Certified, Pavement Marking Technician
Certified, Longitudinal Barrier Selection
Former, Traffic Control Supervisor, Safe-T-Flare Rental Services
Former, Traffic Engineering Technician, City of Overland Park
Current, President, Traffic Safety Consulting Firm

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