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Children and Handicap Warning Signs

Illinois Department of Transportation:

Neither the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices nor the Standard Highway Signs and Marking book provide a standard symbol warning sign for the following Slow Children Playing or Slow Children at Play signs. Therefore, these signs are not in compliance with the MUTCD.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Section 2A.06 Design of Signs, Paragraph 09, requires “All symbols shall be unmistakably similar to, or mirror images of, the adopted symbol signs, all of which are shown in the Standard Highway Signs and Markings book (see Section 1A.11). Symbols and colors shall not be modified unless otherwise provided in this Manual. All symbols and colors for signs not shown in the Standard Highway Signs and Markings book shall follow the procedures for experimentation and change described in Section “1A 10”.

Children warning signs should not be used since they may encourage children to play in the street and may encourage parents to be less vigilant. Such signs also provide no guidance to motorists as to a safe speed, and the sign has no legal basis for determining what a motorist should do. Furthermore, motorists should expect children to be at play in all residential areas, and the lack of signing on some streets may indicate otherwise. The signs are unenforceable and act as another roadside obstacle to pedestrians and errant motorists. Use of these nonstandard signs may also imply that the involved jurisdiction approves of streets as playgrounds, which may result in the jurisdiction being vulnerable to tort liability.

The MUTCD, Section 2A.06 Design of Signs, Paragraph 13, allows “State and local highway agencies may develop special word message signs in situations where roadway conditions make it necessary to provide road users with additional regulatory, warning, or guidance information, such as when road users need to be notified of special regulations or warned about a situation that might not be readily apparent.”  However, the MUTCD, Section 2A.04, Paragraph 01, recommends “Regulatory and warning sings should be used conservatively because these signs, if used to excess, tend to lose their effectiveness.”

Other word message warning signs dealing with children such as “Autistic Child”,  “Blind Child”, “Deaf Child” or “Children at Play” are not recommended.  These types of warning signs:

  • Do not describe where the child might be.
  • No longer attract the attention of motorists after initial installation.
  • Have no legal meaning.
  • Provide parents and children with a false sense of security.
  • Are often left in place after the child is grown or moved away.
  • Lack established procedures for engineering judgment or study.
  • Have proven ineffective.

The MUTCD Section 2C.49 Vehicular Traffic Warnings Signs and Section 2C.50 Non-Vehicular Warning Signs provide the requirements for Bicycle (W11-1), Pedestrian (W11-2), Handicapped (W11-9), Bicycle/Pedestrians (W11-15), and Playgrounds (W15-1) warning symbol signs.  These signs should be considered as an alternative to the word message signs if engineering judgment warrants a warning sign and the location being considered for the sign complies with MUTCD requirements.