Are You Ready for a Paradigm Shift in Sign Mounting Heights?

Research from Garvey and Associates suggests that regulators, municipalities and the sign industry could benefit from an entirely different approach to regulating freestanding sign height. Freestanding signs are those that don’t attach to buildings, such as ground-mounted, monument, pylon, and pole signs.

The study drew on practices related to traffic signs, as well as information derived from previous industry research plus new design research, to propose a fresh way of looking at regulating the mounting heights for on-premise freestanding signs.

A Traffic Signs Perspective

From the very first edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) in 1935 [link to], sign heights standards took into account the possibility of another vehicle positioned between drivers and signs. The MUTCD sets a minimum height between the ground or curb and the bottom of the sign, in order to reduce the likelihood that signs are blocked from view.

According to the Garvey study, the Federal Highway Department is unaware of any specific research that supports the sign height requirements, but the minimums have proven to be adequate.

A Commercial Signs Perspective

The local governments who control commercial freestanding signage have also typically lacked solid data on appropriate mounting heights from a sign visibility or traffic safety perspective, the study reports. The result: Regulations are made from the standpoint of aesthetics, typically based on a maximum height between the ground or curb and the top of the sign, often limited to six feet.

The Garvey study took special interest in a previous line-of-sight study, which concluded that elevating sign copy was the most direct solution to reducing sign blockage. Garvey points out that several studies, and even the 1935 MUTCD manual, indicate that low sign mounting heights may have a negative impact on traffic safety – another important factor to consider.

The Garvey Study

With both visibility and traffic safety mind, the Garvey study set out to measure just how high a sign should be mounted, based on different ways roadways are configured, height and position of drivers in vehicles, how vehicles might block signs from what angles, etc.

The truly different element in the Garvey study approach – the paradigm shift – is “the philosophical difference in the very definition of sign mounting height.” Instead of the traditional maximum mounting height used for commercial signage, Garvey’s recommendations are based on the minimum mounting height used today for traffic signs. They even created an online calculator [link to] to help identify the right height for individual situations based on just eight questions.

“While no one would try to argue for less attractive on-premise signs, their primary purpose is to be seen and read in a timely fashion by the motoring public,” the study concludes. “For this to occur, the signs must be mounted high enough to avoid being blocked by other vehicles on the roadway.”

For anybody who’s tried to spot a particular business from a busy roadway and execute a safe turn onto the premises, the approach makes sense. The Garvey study makes an evidence-based case for optimal sign placements based on both visibility and traffic safety, and provides a tool that utilizes that evidence.

This article is based on Recommended Mounting Heights for Freestanding On-Premise Signs, [link to] which was funded by The USSC Foundation Inc. and The Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry. The project was authored by Philip M. Garvey and M. Jennifer Klena of Garvey and Associates, and published by the USSC Foundation.