Ticket for a Nonconforming Traffic Sign/Signal?

Written by Gregory Monte.

One of the best ways to beat a ticket is to show that the traffic-control device you were accused of violating was not installed/placed in conformance with the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)

The MUTCD covers common violations like speeding and stop signs, but it also applies to other citations if they involve a traffic sign or signal of any kind (red lights, no turn on red, school zone, left turn on green arrow only, etc.).

My son beat his traffic ticket in Pennsylvania by referencing PA state law and the MUTCD.  In his case, the stop sign he was accused of violating was not placed “as close as practical to the intersection” as required by the MUTCD.  If you are interested in the details about how he did this, I wrote a 23-page eBook How My Son Beat an Unfair Stop Sign Ticket in Pennsylvania which explains it all.


How It Works – Signs/Signals Must Adhere to the MUTCD

All of the states have adopted the MUTCD is some form or other.  This means that their traffic-control devices have to be in compliance with this manual.  In addition, most states have language in their motor vehicle statutes which only require drivers to obey these devices if they are “placed in accordance” with this the law. 

This is the key to beating a ticket.  If the traffic-control device does not fulfill MUTCD requirements, it is technically not enforceable.

Here are some examples of the language from several state motor vehicle codes:

Georgia“The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of an official traffic-control device applicable thereto, placed in accordance with this chapter …”

Rhode Island“The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic control device applicable to him or her placed in accordance with the provisions of chapters 12 – 27 of this title …”

Florida“The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic control device applicable thereto, placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter …”

Pennsylvania“… the driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any applicable official traffic-control device placed or held in accordance with the provisions of this title …”

I could list more, but you should get the picture.  If a sign or signal doesn’t adhere to the MUTCD then it was not “placed in accordance” with state law and can be challenged.


The Caveat – “Substantial Conformance”

That is the good news – but there is some bad news here also.

The Federal MUTCD, Section 1A.07 says the following (and state laws have similar wording in their vehicle codes):

“… traffic control devices on all streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public travel in each State shall be in substantial conformance with standards issued or endorsed by the Federal Highway Administrator.”

Notice the word “substantial.”

This is the caveat in attempting to fight a traffic ticket based on MUTCD violations.  I bring it up because I don’t want you to be blindsided in court.  If you show up with only one piece of evidence to prove that your ticket should be dismissed, don’t think you are home free because the judge may still rule against you.  To win in court using the MUTCD, you need to find as many problems with your traffic-control device as possible.  The more you find, the better chance you will have of winning.

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