Are Yellow Speed Limit Signs Legally Enforceable by Police?

Written by Gregory Monte.

The short answer is – no, they are not legally enforceable.

But I don’t just make this statement because it is my opinion or because I read about it on some random web page.  Almost all of my blog posts are about traffic issues that I have personally researched and this one is no different.  The way I see it, I owe my readers the legal basis for any claim I make.

Winning Your Case on a Technicality not Testimony

All states abide by the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.  I have turned to this manual again and again in my research on fighting tickets, because it is full of potential technicalities in the law that you can use to beat a ticket.  As I indicate in several other blog posts, technicalities are the only sure-fire way that you can win in traffic court.   If your defense is to pit your testimony against that of the police officer’s, you are going to lose 99.99% of the time.

The Legal Basis – Color Code

Well, it turns out that the MUTCD uses a color code for posted traffic signs – MUTCD Section 1A.12 Color Code.

According to the standard in this section (03):

The general meaning of the 13 colors shall be as follows:

  1. Black—regulation
  2. Blue—road user services guidance, tourist information, and evacuation route
  3. Brown—recreational and cultural interest area guidance
  4. Coral—unassigned
  5. Fluorescent Pink—incident management
  6. Fluorescent Yellow-Green—pedestrian warning, bicycle warning, playground warning, school bus and school warning
  7. Green—indicated movements permitted, direction guidance
  8. Light Blue—unassigned
  9. Orange—temporary traffic control
  10. Purple—lanes restricted to use only by vehicles with registered electronic toll collection (ETC) accounts
  11. Red—stop or prohibition
  12. White—regulation
  13. Yellow—warning

Notice that regulation signs are either black or white and prohibition signs are red.  Warning signs, on the other hand, are yellow.  But this, in and of itself, does not prove that a warning sign does not have the force of law.

The Legal Basis – Definitions

So then I turned to MUTCD Section 1A.13 Definitions to see if this section provided any clarification.

The following words and phrases, when used in this Manual, shall have the following meanings:

172. Regulatory Sign—a sign that gives notice to road users of traffic laws or regulations.

252. Warning Sign—a sign that gives notice to road users of a situation that might not be readily apparent.

The Legal Basis – Signs

This wording pretty much proves that a yellow warning sign is not backed by a law or regulation.  But just to be sure, I dove a bit further into the MUTCD.  Section 2B.01 Application of Regulatory Signs indicated the following standard (01):

Regulatory signs shall be used to inform road users of selected traffic laws or regulations and indicate the applicability of the legal requirements.”

Furthermore, Section 2B.13 Speed Limit Sign (R2-1), specifically refers to the well-recognized black and white speed limit sign which is designated as R2-1 while Section 2C.08 Advisory Speed Plaque (W13-1P) is a totally separate section describing a separate type of sign known as the Advisory Speed (W13-1P) plaque which …

 “… may be used to supplement any warning sign to indicate the advisory speed for a condition.”

When it comes to the law, words really do matter.  If a statute uses the word “shall,” there is no room for interpretation – the law must be followed.  But if another statute uses the word “may” or “should,” there is an option.

The fact that the yellow speed limit sign is specifically referred to as an “advisory speed,” proves that it cannot be enforced by police officers.

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