Should I Invest in a Retroreflectometer?

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A retroreflectometer is the go-to instrument municipalities and highway departments depend on to measure the reflectivity of signs and markings on roadways — critical to maintaining safe travels.

Standards for traffic safety sign and markings retroreflectivity are set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), and retroreflectometers are the only way to ensure compliance with these standards.

These devices not only remove subjectivity when assessing retroreflectivity but often also provide GPS locations of signs measured, providing helpful organization of all traffic safety signs and their retroreflectivity.

Traffic manager testing reflectivity of road sign

Unless you get regular visits from a visual nighttime inspector, it’s possible to miss signs that do not meet the minimum standard for retroreflectivity. The best solution is to invest in a retroreflectometer of your own, allowing you to regularly confirm adequate retroreflectivity of your traffic signs and markings.

Below I've outlined the three predominate benefits of investing in a retroreflectometer of your own:

1) Maintain Federal Traffic Sign Retroreflectivity Levels

The MUTCD requires the retroreflectivity of road signs and markings to ensure proper visibility requirements are at or above the minimum levels in table 2A-3 of the MUTCD.

In fact, the MUTCD states all regulatory, warning and guide signs shall be retroreflective to show the same shape and similar color by both day and night. To ensure these minimum levels are adhered to, a retroreflectometer is the only way to remove subjectivity and insert objectivity to determine if all road signs and markings are in accordance with these federal requirements.

ASTM E1709, Standard Test Method for Measurement of Retroreflective Signs Using a Portable Retroreflectometer, provides the standard method for measuring sign retroreflectivity with handheld instruments. If the measured sign retroreflectivity value is less than the appropriate level in Table 2A-3, the sign should be replaced.

2) Reduce Long-Term Costs

Money spent on improving roadway safety is less than the cost caused by preventable accidents.

It’s no secret financial resources are limited. So how do you make the most cost-effective decision while ensuring safe travels? A retroreflectometer makes it clear whether a sign needs to be replaced or not, eliminating the need to do blanket sign replacements.

Available resources should always go to low-performing signs and markings. Oftentimes, officials replace signs too early, leaving little to no budget remaining for signs that require immediate replacement.

3) Increase Nighttime Safety

Sign reflectivity is never more important than after dark.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), more than half of all traffic fatalities occur at night. Increased reflectivity on signs allows for added decision time for all drivers, especially those 65 years and older who need four times the amount of light to see at night compared to a 25 year old.

Catching insufficient retroreflectivity of traffic signs and markings early on and replacing these signs can greatly improve nighttime traffic safety.


A retroreflectometer, such as the one offered by TAPCO, can provide precise readings to avoid both nighttime driving danger and the cost of unnecessary sign replacement. The product is customizable to fit a customer’s needs and available from TAPCO through our GSA and OMNIA contracts.


Request a free quote today to take the first step in investing in your own retroreflectometer >


Aleischa Kronshagen

TAPCO | Product Manager

With several years of experience in the traffic safety industry, Aleischa manages TAPCO's dynamic curve warning solution product line and most other specialty solution product lines, including emergency vehicle, icy road and intersection conflict.

Previously, she was a member of TAPCO's customer service team, which fostered a passion for process and data analysis, as well as creative problem solving.

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