National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW): The Life-Saving Potential of Orange in Highway Construction and Maintenance

 Orange is a color that often stands out among the other hues, tints, and tones perceptive to the human eye. That color can be bright and unique. Unsurprisingly, orange has therefore long been a valued color for use within construction work zones and for other safety purposes along highways across the United States. 

 

An example of the eye-catching role played by orange on roads can be seen in how the color was used more than eight decades ago by the Washington State Department of Highways (now part of the Washington State Department of Transportation). As reported in a 1937 article in the Spokane-based Spokesman-Review newspaper, the department by that time had started painting orange stripes on the center lines of highways throughout the state to keep drivers more focused and help them stay on their side of the road. 

 

In detailing this innovative use of orange, the Spokesman-Review noted how the color “has proven that it is much more visible under all conditions, including night driving” in a highway setting. “State highway trucks, signal posts and equipment generally are also painted orange for the same reason,” the article reported. “Orange, therefore, is the official color of the Washington state highway department.” The article likewise noted, “The orange stripe is a life-saver in many instances.”

 

The cover of the 1993 revisions for the MUTCD.

The life-saving potential of orange was recognized on a nationwide scope in 1971 when that year’s edition of the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) introduced the use of the color in regulatory signs, barricades, and other traffic-channeling devices in and near work zones. The 1978 version of the MUTCD, which mostly contained revisions to the 1971 edition, included such additional devices for use in construction areas as orange signs featuring highway flaggers and workers. This 1978 version stated, “The high conspicuity of fluorescent orange colors provides an additional margin of safety by producing a high visual impact in hazardous areas.”                  

 

Photo Credit: Texas A&M Transportation Institute

 

For more information on the MUTCD’s original provisions for the use of orange in work zones, please check out https://ceprofs.civil.tamu.edu/ghawkins/MUTCD-History_files/MUTCDhistory3.pdf

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