ITE District Six Annual Meeting: Red Light Running Panel July 15, 2002

Camera Enforcement v.
Sound Engineering Practices
A clash of diametrically opposed forces!

Continued - Page 2


To make our roads safer, all we have to do is follow the law, the national traffic control law that is. It is called Title 23 and its designated National Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Since the adoption of the 1988 Edition and further refined in the Millennium Edition, the National MUTCD has been decreed as the statutory minimum requirement for “all traffic control devices installed on any street, highway, or bikeway open to public travel ... regardless of type or classification of agency having jurisdiction ... no exceptions”.

MUTCD: Millennium Edition
“The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, under authority granted by the Highway Safety Act of 1966, decreed that traffic control devices on all streets and highways open to public travel in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 109(d) and 402(a) in each State shall be in substantial conformance with the Standards issued or endorsed by the FHWA.”

“The need for uniform standards was recognized long ago. The American Association of State and Highway Officials (AASHO), now known as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), published a manual for rural highways in 1927 and the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety (NCSHS) published a manual for urban streets in 1930. In the early years, the necessity for unification of the standards applicable to the different classes of road and street systems was obvious. To meet this need, a joint committee of AASHO and NCSHS developed and published the original edition of this Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) in 1935. That committee, now called the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), though changed from time to time in name, organization, and personnel, has been in continuous existence and has contributed to periodic revisions of this Manual. The FHWA has administered the MUTCD since the 1971 edition.”

Since 1944 compliance has been mandated on all federally funded projects during construction. With the 1971 edition of the MUTCD it became recommended practice for all roadways and mandatory for the look and shape of all new traffic control devices.

With the 1988 MUTCD edition, prior recommended practice became the minimum statutory requirement for traffic control on all roadways open to the public "regardless of type or classification of agency having jurisdiction." It provided for a two-year period for each State to bring all traffic control devices, engineering practices, and procedures into compliance. It also required them rewrite their state and local statutes with conforming language, and to cause all noncomplying devices to be upgraded or removed (some changes have longer phase-in periods). These were funded mandates.

This change in the US Code also mandated conformity with MUTCD referenced "nationally recognized" professional engineering standards and practices – therefore, they too in effect became the standard practice to be applied under federal law.

What about my state’s statutes and procedures? There is no requirement to directly reference the law in state statutes; nonetheless compliance is compulsory to receive Federal Highway Funds. Accordingly for over three decades now state administrators have certified compliance to receive their Title 23 benefits. Whereas its actual mandates remain virtually unknown to legislators and every other political entity within the state exercising regulatory and policing powers. THE RESULTS: widespread noncompliance with the law, confusion and chaos when the issue is raised!

In regards to signal timing, the 1988 edition 4B–20 said "Signal Operation Must Relate to Traffic Flow", "Traffic control signals shall be operated in a manner consistent with traffic requirements" and "engineering studies shall be used to determine the proper phasing and timing for a signal" and "Since traffic flows and patterns change, it is necessary that the engineering data be updated and re-evaluated regularly."

For yellow interval timings, the adopted by reference relevant ITE practice guideline said it shall be set to encompass 97–99th percentile of the traffics' (as found for that location) requirements to stop. The "All Red" is an additional safety buffer to be applied, and it is not part of the yellow phase requirements.

Regardless if these minimums are met, if there is a high rate of noncompliance and this becomes known to the engineer, this constitutes a "Notice of Defect". The engineer as a licensed professional is duty bound to correct any safety defects, using prescribed practices and countermeasures. Therefore regardless of how the signal timings yellow phase was established, under law the engineer is required to correct known engineering deficiencies. Failure to do so makes the supervising engineer personally responsible for this safety hazard and it also extends this liability to their employers.

With the Millennium edition, to thwart challenges to widespread noncompliance and in particular red light cameras based on inadequate yellows, the FHWA illegally removed these prior best-practice safety protocols. Now you can use the posted limit (invented number) applying the new deviant ITE guidelines (inadequate). In effect now there is no standard whatsoever to be met, no matter how unsafe the practice.

Notwithstanding, there still is a statutory safety standard that can be brought to bear that has yet to be removed, though they have already initiated the process to eliminate this best practice too. The standard that still can be applied to challenge the use of invented posted limits for signal timing: a posted speed limit requires an engineering study, the prevailing speed to be applied is the 85th percentile raised to the next 5 mph increment, it shall be documented, and it shall be established in accordance with nationally recognized practice, per MUTCD 2B.11:Speed Limits Signs. And the ITE adopted formula for signal timing also requires a velocity value, and this value for the prevailing speed is to be determined by an engineering study. It doesn't address the special needs of turn movements, but it does require a factual foundation for through movements.

Designing for prevailing conditions is critical because there is a definitive symbiotic relationship between the public's consensus as to what is reasonable and prudent (85-90th percentile of free-flowing traffic – safest speed) and ensuring that all traffic control devices are set to safely manage the traffic's requirements, as found, for that particular location. The traffic engineering study quantifies this publics' safe for conditions consensus and becomes the critical design guidance for all traffic control decisions.

Title 23 entrusted these decisions SOLELY to engineers applying the body of knowledge amassed by their institutions. Since 1988, the role of political bodies is to administratively codify these best practices into law. A political body cannot make an engineering judgment, overrule an engineering finding or order a device installed without the concurrence of a licensed engineer, applying national standards or warrants.

The Political entity may ask for another alternative but any alternative must also be in accordance with the prescribed practices. Even if a device meets minimum MUTCD statutory requirements, it "shall not be a legal requirement for their installation." Using engineering judgment as to the best overall solution, the engineer may choose not to install it. However, if installed, it shall meet the particular device's MUTCD provisions.

The governing federal law, Title 23 and its MUTCD is a unique and ironic twist on federal government preemption. The drafters four decades ago knew that safety is best served when the actual road being regulated is reviewed taking into account all factors and that remains today an indisputable fact and best practice. Traffic engineering studies are the cornerstone of basis-in-fact findings as to what traffic control devices or safety mitigation may be warranted. Without a proper study, all traffic control is based on unfounded conjecture, and safety is compromised.

This Federal law says according to LOCAL conditions, after the LOCAL engineers have personally determined how the LOCAL people who use that particular section of LOCAL roadway on a daily basis are driving and they have reviewed the LOCAL highway facilities, traffic volumes, existing traffic control devices and accident data or any notices of defect. Then the engineers' are directed to apply only nationally accepted and verified sound engineering practices to remedy any problems and best manage the flow for the conditions found, NOT conjecture from Washington, State Capitals, Local Politicians or the personal opinion of the engineer without prior written approval of the FHWA.

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