In general terms, all drivers are required by Section 304.012, RSMo. to exercise the highest degree of care at all times:
- Every person operating a motor vehicle on the roads and highways of this state shall drive the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed so as not to endanger the property of another or the life or limb of any person and shall exercise the highest degree of care.
Part of exercising the highest degree of care is compliance with Section 304.271, RSMo., which requires drivers to obey all traffic control devices, stating in part:
- The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable thereto placed in accordance with the provisions of the law, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in the law.
- Whenever official traffic-control devices are placed in position approximately conforming to the requirements of the law, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
- Any official traffic-control device placed pursuant to the provisions of the law and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirements of this chapter, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence. [emphasis added]
But....what exactly is an “official traffic control device”? What law determines what is and is not an “official traffic control device”? Are all “official traffic control devices” the same across the country?
Manual On Uniform Traffic Control Devices
The Manual On Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) was first drafted in 1935. As roads and traffic have changed over the years, the MUTCD has changed as well to reflect the necessary standards.
The MUTCD sets the standards for all traffic control devices including signs, traffic lights, and pavement markings.
The United States Department of Transportation, based on the Highway Safety Act of 1966, mandated that all traffic control devices on all public streets and highways be in substantial compliance with the MUTCD. The Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) used its rule-making authority to propound 23 CFR 655.603 in the Code of Federal Regulations, which adopts the MUTCD as the national standard for traffic control devices on any roadway open to public travel in accordance with 23 USC 109(d) & 402(a).
The FWHA, since 1971, has had complete authority over the MUTCD.
On September 12, 1961, the Missouri Highways & Transportation Commission first adopted the provisions of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and authorized the department to bring signing, marking, and signalization on the State Highway System into conformity therewith. The adoption of the MUTCD was not done by statute, but instead done under the rule-making authority of the Missouri Highways & Transportation Commission.
The Missouri Highways & Transportation Commission is the board that governs the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).
On July 10, 2001, the Commission updated Missouri by approving the most current version of the MUTCD as the basis for Missouri Department of Transportation traffic control policy, and authorized implementation of actions need to bring future deviations from the MUTCD into compliance as they arose.
The most recent embodiment of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices was adopted by the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, as the current national standard for traffic control devices.
On December 16, 2009, a final rule adopting the 2009 Edition of the MUTCD was published in the Federal Register, effective date January 15, 2010, as modified in 2012.
The States were required to adopt the 2009 National MUTCD as their legal State standard for traffic control devices within two years from the effective date (by January 15, 2012). All pavement markings, road signs, traffic lights or signals, must all be in compliance with the current MUTCD.
An excellent history of the MUTCD appears at Section 900 of the MoDOT Engineering Policy Guide.
Placement Of Traffic Control Devices
Section 900.1.8 of the MoDOT Engineering Policy Guide is Section 1A.08 of the MUTCD, and gives authority to MoDOT to place traffic control devices within the road right-of-way on public roads and highways, stating in part:
Traffic control devices, advertisements, announcements, and other signs or messages within the highway right of way shall be placed only as authorized by a public authority or the official having jurisdiction, or, in the case of private roads open to public travel, by the private owner or private official having jurisdiction, for the purpose of regulating, warning, or guiding traffic.
In addition, Section 227.220, RSMo. authorizes the Highways & Transportation Commission to prescribe uniform traffic control pavement markings and guide signs on public roads and highways, stating in part:
- The commission is authorized to prescribe uniform marking and guide boards on the state highways, and to cause to be removed all other markings and guide boards and advertising signs, and to remove any other obstruction to the lawful use of a state highway, including the right to remove or trim trees located within or overhanging the right-of-way of a state highway, and to prohibit and regulate the erection of advertising or other signs on the right-of-way of the state highways.
All traffic control signals are controlled by Part 4 of the MUTCD. All traffic control signs are controlled by Part 2 of the MUTCD.Section 304.351.4, RSMo. grants the authority to both the Missouri Highway & Transportation Commission, and local cities, the authority to decide if traffic must stop at an intersection, or can continue through the intersection unimpeded. Where a stop sign is erected, the intersection is designated as a “stop intersection”. Where traffic is allowed to continue through the intersection without stopping, the intersection is designated a “through intersection”. Traffic at a stop sign is required to yield the right-of-way to cross-traffic that has no stop sign. The statute states, in relevant part:
4. (1) The state highways and transportation commission with reference to state highways and local authorities with reference to other highways under their jurisdiction may designate through highways and erect stop signs or yield signs at specified entrances thereto, or may designate any intersection as a stop intersection or as a yield intersection and erect stop signs or yield signs at one or more entrances to such intersection.
(2) Preferential right-of-way at an intersection may be indicated by stop signs or yield signs as authorized in this section.
As noted above, Section 304.271, RSMo. requires drivers to obey traffic control devices, such as stop signs or traffic control lights, stating in relevant part:
The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable thereto placed in accordance with the provisions of the law, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in the law.
The same statute goes on to create a presumption that the traffic control devices are presumed to be lawfully placed and to comply with Chapter 304, RSMo.:
3. Whenever official traffic-control devices are placed in position approximately conforming to the requirements of the law, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
4. Any official traffic-control device placed pursuant to the provisions of the law and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirements of this chapter, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
Section 304.281, RSMo. sets out the rules for traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, controlled by light signals, stating:
Whenever traffic is controlled by traffic control signals exhibiting different colored lights, or colored lighted arrows, successively one at a time or in combination, only the colors green, red and yellow shall be used, except for special pedestrian signals carrying a word legend, and said lights shall indicate and apply to drivers of vehicles and pedestrians as follows:
- Green indication
- Vehicular traffic facing a circular green signal may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at such place prohibits either such turn. But vehicular traffic, including vehicles turning right or left, shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk at the time such signal is exhibited;
- Vehicular traffic facing a green arrow signal, shown alone or in combination with another indication, may cautiously enter the intersection only to make the movement indicated by such arrow, or such other movement as is permitted by other indications shown at the same time. Such vehicular traffic shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection;
- Unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian control signal, as provided in section 304.291, pedestrians facing any green signal, except when the sole green signal is a turn arrow, may proceed across the roadway within any marked or unmarked crosswalk.
- Steady yellow indication
- Vehicular traffic facing a steady yellow signal is thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection;
- Pedestrians facing a steady yellow signal, unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian control signal as provided in section 304.291, are thereby advised that there is insufficient time to cross the roadway before a red indication is shown and no pedestrian shall then start to cross the roadway.
- Steady red indication
- Vehicular traffic facing a steady red signal alone shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection at a clearly marked stop line but, if none, then before entering the intersection and shall remain standing until an indication to proceed is shown except as provided in paragraph (b);
- The driver of a vehicle which is stopped as close as practicable at the entrance to the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then at the entrance to the intersection in obedience to a red signal, may cautiously enter the intersection to make a right turn but shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic proceeding as directed by the signal at the intersection, except that the state highways and transportation commission with reference to an intersection involving a state highway, and local authorities with reference to an intersection involving other highways under their jurisdiction, may prohibit any such right turn against a red signal at any intersection where safety conditions so require, said prohibition shall be effective when a sign is erected at such intersection giving notice thereof;
- Unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian control signal as provided in section 304.291, pedestrians facing a steady red signal alone shall not enter the roadway.
In addition to establishing the authority to place stop signs, Section 304.351.4(2)(a), RSMo. also sets out the right-of-way rules for vehicles at stop signs, stating in relevant part:
... every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop intersection, indicated by a stop sign, shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic in the intersecting roadway before entering the intersection.
After having stopped, the driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from another highway or which is approaching so closely on the highway as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection.
Pavement markings are included in the concept of “official traffic control device”. Design specifications and application of pavement markings are part of the MUTCD, contained in Part 3 of the 2009 (the current version) of the MUTCD. The MUTCD adopted and published the United States Lane Markings that standardized all pavement markings nationwide.
Section 227.221, RSMo. also requires MoDOT to mark all primary roads and highways outside any city limits with a white line along the edge of the road:
The state transportation department shall mark all primary roads and highways outside the city limits of any incorporated city, town, or village with a white line along the outer or right-hand edge of such road or highway. The mark shall be made of the same substance and shall be of the same width as centerlines are on such roads and highways.
The pavement markings required by the MUTCD are regularly referenced by other statutes controlling vehicular and pedestrian traffic. For example, Using the pavement markings as a reference, Section 304.015, RSMo. requires driving on the right half of the lane marking lines:
3. It is unlawful to drive any vehicle upon any highway or road which has been divided into two or more roadways by means of a physical barrier or by means of a dividing section or delineated by curbs, lines or other markings on the roadway, except to the right of such barrier or dividing section, or to make any left turn or semicircular or U-turn on any such divided highway, except at an intersection or interchange or at any signed location designated by the state highways and transportation commission or the department of transportation. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to emergency vehicles, law enforcement vehicles or to vehicles owned by the commission or the department.
Model Traffic Ordinance
The authority of the Missouri Highways & Transportation Commission does not extend to public roads within any city limits. Instead, each city must adopt its own traffic ordinances.
Over the years, a number of groups searched for a method to standardize state and local traffic laws. The Uniform Vehicle Code and Model Traffic Ordinance was one such publication. Another was the National Model Traffic Ordinance, developed and published by the National Committee On Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances.
Chapter 300 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri sets out the Model Traffic Ordinance For Missouri Municipalities to adopt. The Model Traffic Ordinance was enacted by the General Assembly in 1965 and published in Chapter 300 RSMo.. The Model Traffic Ordinance has been amended from time-to-time over the next 50+ years. The Model Traffic Ordinance is somewhat unique in that it is designed to be adopted by reference by any city choosing to do so. (Section 300.600, RSMo.)
The Model Traffic Ordinance not only conforms to Missouri traffic laws, but also substantially complies with the National Model Traffic Ordinance and the Uniform Vehicle Code, both of which have been approved by the President’s Committee For Traffic Safety.
The Model Traffic Ordinance includes all the matching provisions concerning traffic control devices that align with the state statutes and the MUTCD. Many cities draft their traffic ordinances based upon the Missouri Model Traffic Ordinance.
Section 300.135, RSMo. adopts the MUTCD through MoDOT and states:
“All traffic control signs, signals and devices shall conform to the manual and specifications approved by the state highways and transportation commission or resolution adopted by the legislative body of the city. All signs or signals required hereunder for a particular purpose shall so far as practicable be uniform as to type and location throughout the city. All traffic control devices so erected and not inconsistent with the provisions of this ordinance shall be official traffic control devices.”
Section 300.140, RSMo. sets out the same requirements in the Model Traffic Ordinance as are found in Section 304.271, RSMo.:
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 ordinance, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this ordinance.
Legality of traffic control devices are set in Section 300.150, RSMo., using language very similar to Section 304.271, RSMo.:
- Whenever official traffic control devices are placed in position approximately conforming to the requirements of this ordinance, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
- Any official traffic control device placed pursuant to the provisions of this ordinance and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirements of this ordinance, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.
Section 300.130, RSMo. sets out the authority of a city to install traffic control devices:
The city traffic engineer shall place and maintain traffic control signs, signals, and devices when and as required under the traffic ordinances of the city to make effective the provisions of said ordinances, and may place and maintain such additional traffic control devices as he may deem necessary to regulate traffic under the traffic ordinances of the city or under state law or to guide or warn traffic.
Vehicle operators and pedestrians who are involved in vehicle collisions or receive traffic citations should seek detailed advise from a skilled attorney who can examine the individual facts in question in light of the MUTCD, statutes and ordinances that may be applicable.
By: Joseph W. Rigler
DID YOU KNOW ? is presented by Williams, Robinson, Rigler & Buschjost, PC as a public information service only. None of the information contained herein is intended to be taken as legal advice. Each matter depends on unique facts which attorneys must consider in forming an opinion, and may depend on laws unique to a particular jurisdiction. No two cases are the same. If you want to know more about this subject, contact Williams, Robinson, Rigler & Buschjost, PC, or the attorney of your choice, and seek a formal opinion about your particular case.
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