New Sign Retroreflectivity Requirements

October 22, 2019

Sign Retroreflectivity Requirements

The Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”) recently adopted new regulations aimed at implementing and enforcing retroreflectivity standards of traffic control signs.  “Retroreflectivity” describes how light is reflected from a surface and returned to its original source.  Because the retro-reflective components in signs have a limited life, the new regulations seek to prevent noncompliant traffic control signs.  All agencies that own and maintain traffic signs are required to adhere to the new requirements for their traffic control signs. The new FHWA standards, which are contained in the manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“MUTCD”), establish minimum levels of sign retroreflectivity.

By June 13, 2014, all agencies which own and maintain traffic control signs must establish and implement a written traffic sign management or assessment plan that is designed to maintain regulatory and warning sign retroreflectivity at or above the established minimum levels. Generally, the assessment or management plan must catalog all retroreflective traffic signs owned and maintained by an agency, note their location, note their current retroreflective levels, and put in place a systematic method of replacing noncompliant traffic control signs.  Although a system or schedule for replacement must be in place, FHWA generally states the replacement should occur as resources become available.  However, a schedule requiring replacement “as needed” will be considered unacceptable to the FHWA.

This compliance date does not require replacement by a particular date; rather it only requires agencies to implement an assessment or management plan for maintaining and evaluating applicable standards of sign retroreflectivity.  Additionally, although the compliance date relates only to regulatory and warning traffic signs, the FHWA has stated that it still expects agencies to establish a method for assessing and maintaining retroreflectivity standards for all types of signs as required by the regulations.  This means that non-traffic control signs, such as guide signs, still are required to be included in an agency’s assessment and management plan; however, they may subsequently be added as resources allow rather than by the compliance date.

In addition to improving safety for drivers, the implementation of a reasonable plan for maintaining sign retroreflectivity will serve to defend public agencies in the event of tort liability claims and litigation surrounding sign retroreflectivity. Public agencies that demonstrate a reasonable maintenance plan as outlined in the MUTCD should be better equipped to successfully defend against tort litigation involving claims of improper sign retroreflectivity, as the FHWA standards will likely be adopted by courts as the required standard in litigation surrounding retroreflectivity of traffic control signs. The public agency will need to be prepared to defend its replacement scheduling decisions where liability issues arise.

Due to the technical nature of this evolving field, additional research is required to ensure each municipality takes the requisite steps to comply with the retroreflectivity standards and new implementation requirements.  Below is a list of resources to further review compliance measures.  Additionally, some businesses have begun to work with municipal retroreflectivity compliance.  Please call us for such contacts or if you have more specific questions.  If you would like to be added to this distribution list, please email

Sign Retroreflectivity Toolkit
Sign Retroreflectivity Guidebook
Nighttime Visibility  Retroreflectivity


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