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Use of fluorescent colors

pedestrian signs
The MUTCD dictates that pedestrian signs like this one can be yellow, fluorescent yellow, or fluorescent yellow-green.

Using fluorescent colors increases the visibility of signs — in the daytime, but especially in the dark. Under Section 1A.12 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), certain sign colors are assigned to certain purposes. Fluorescence is usually a means of increasing the visibility of a sign of a certain color. For maximum visibility, traffic signs commonly use brighter colors, like yellow, yellow-green and orange.

The MUTCD indicates that yellow signs should be used for the purpose of warning drivers of some condition, like a deer crossing sign or a dip sign. The manual also implies that fluorescent yellow signage is a good alternative to the standard yellow, largely in cases where the warning is of greater importance and warrants an increased presence on the road. Generally speaking, fluorescent yellow signs can be used for any type of warning, though other fluorescent signs may be preferred for certain purposes.

As with yellow, the MUTCD notes that fluorescent yellow-green is reserved as a color for warning signs. Unlike fluorescent yellow, though, fluorescent yellow-green is used for more specific warnings, namely those involving possible bystanders. The manual explicitly outlines "pedestrian warning, bicycle warning, playground warning, [and] school bus and school warning" signs as potential fluorescent yellow-green signs, though yellow signs can also be used.

In addition to fluorescent yellow and yellow-green, fluorescent orange is also commonly used for street signs. If you've ever been stuck in road traffic caused by construction, then you don't need to be told that orange is used for "temporary traffic control." Though some may question just how temporary some fluorescent orange signage is, it is nearly always used in contexts like construction or lane closings. Yellow signs are generally not used in these situations, since orange signs have the added meaning of being temporary.

Fluorescent signage is used in any number of situations, all of which are warning signs to drivers. Fluorescence helps to increase the visibility of signage to make drivers aware of conditions that require extra care and vigilance — they’re the big guns when it comes to signs.

The need for fluorescent signs becomes particularly urgent when put into context. Unlike a street sign, a “Children at play” has significantly higher stakes. A missed turn is far less tragic and far easier to correct than a vehicular accident involving a child. Vehicular accidents are the leading cause of fatal child injuries worldwide. Construction workers may not seem like a very vulnerable segment of the population, but accidents in highway work zones kill hundreds of construction workers. The nature of temporary roadwork means that drivers are navigating complex hazards — following unfamiliar signage, dodging barrels and making unintuitive lane changes. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there were 667 fatal crashes in in construction and maintenance work zones in 2009.

 
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