Written by Gregory Monte.
Yesterday I discussed the legal requirements for the size of a stop sign. In that post, I concluded that a stop sign which does not adhere to the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) guidelines is not enforceable: A Small Stop Sign Cannot Be Enforced.
These same guidelines also apply to speed limit signs. This means that you can also successfully challenge a speeding ticket if the sign which announces the limit is not sized properly.
That’s right – size DOES matter.
Why Size Matters
Size matters because most states have a section in their motor vehicle codes similar to New York’s which states:
New York Section 1110 – “Every person shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable to him placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter …”
An improperly sized speed limit sign was, by definition, not “placed in accordance with” the required chapters of the state’s motor vehicle code. The only logical conclusion is that “every person” does NOT have to obey its instructions.
If this sounds crazy, I would suggest you read my post A Short Stop Sign Cannot Be Enforced which cites actual case law to back up my claim that a sign that does not adhere to the requirements of the MUTCD cannot be enforced.
The Details About Speed Limit Sign Size
To prove my point about speed limit signs, I will start by referencing MUTCD Section 2A.11. According to paragraph two, the only way a smaller than required sign will be acceptable is:
- If “engineering judgment determines that other sizes are appropriate …”
- If it is placed “… on low-speed roadways, alleys, and private roads open to public travel where the reduced legend size would be adequate for the regulation or warning or where physical conditions preclude the use of larger sizes.”
In all other situations, MUTCD Section 2B.03 governs the standard size of a speed limit sign:
- Expressway: 36” x 48”
- Freeway: 48” x 60”
- Multi-lane Conventional Road: 30” x 36”
- Single-lane Conventional Road: 24” x 30”
There are, however, some exceptions mentioned in Section 2B.03:
- Paragraph 04 indicates that if the “… speed limit is 35 mph or less on a multi-lane highway or street … the minimum size is … [24” x 30”]”
- Paragraph 05 indicates that if a sign is place on both the left and right sides of a multi-lane roadway, a smaller than usual size is acceptable: 24” x 30”
The following definitions may be helpful in figuring out if the speed limit signs you are looking into are properly sized. They come from MUTCD Section 1A.13.
- Expressway—a divided highway with partial control of access.
- Freeway—a divided highway with full control of access.
- Conventional Road—a street or highway other than a low-volume road (as defined in Section 5A.01), expressway, or freeway.
- Street—see Highway.
- Highway—a general term for denoting a public way for purposes of vehicular travel, including the entire area within the right-of-way.