It’s called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (AKA, the MUTCD), and like many obscure regulations, it’s riddled with fundamental problems.
Right now, FHWA is in the process of updating the MUTCD for the first time in more than 10 years. Unfortunately, the currently-proposed update continues to tinker at the margins without fundamentally fixing this flawed regulation. NACTO and a coalition of cities and organizations are calling for FHWA to instead commit to a comprehensive overhaul of the MUTCD (pdf), which was last rewritten in 1971.
The United States has a traffic safety crisis more severe than that of any other industrialized country. 35,000+ people die on our roadways every year, double the rate of Canada, and quadruple that of Europe. The costs of this are not borne equally; Black people were struck and killed by drivers at an 82% higher rate than White, non-Hispanic Americans.
Our streets are unsafe because of how they are designed. While all levels of government are responsible, the crisis stems in no small part from the Federal standards used to build our streets. The MUTCD, which governs all road markings, stop signs, and traffic lights in the US, prioritizes moving private vehicles fast above all other goals–like safety, climate, and access for people walking, biking, in a wheelchair, or on a bus.
Under today’s MUTCD, someone crossing a street is less important than the fast-flowing movement of cars. Often, even multiple people dying at an intersection is not enough for the MUTCD to recommend installing a walk signal.
Because of the flawed rules in the MUTCD, American streets are unsafe and unwelcoming, limiting possibilities to create the vibrant, walkable neighborhoods that people want.