The Origins and Future of LED-Enhanced Signs

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Every day, drivers across the country blow past traffic signs, sending bolts of panic through other drivers — and even ending lives. The culprit in these all-too-common accidents is often poor visibility or impaired driving.

One innovation in particular has drastically cut down on these accidents, capturing drivers’ attention before it’s too late: the LED-enhanced sign. Interestingly, the origins of this seemingly simple yet groundbreaking product began at TAPCO’s Wisconsin headquarters.

The Beginning

Twenty years ago, TAPCO innovators tackled the issue of drivers not complying with STOP signs by designing the first version of BlinkerStop®, a traffic sign with LEDs embedded into the letters on the sign face. Crucially, the LEDs charged during the day and flashed at night, providing a sustainable and attention-grabbing safety solution.

The signs were much-needed additions to problem areas, especially at night and in poor weather conditions.

After demonstrating the LED-enhanced STOP sign to traffic engineers, TAPCO innovators discovered many wanted the lights to flash during the day as well, drawing attention to the signs around the clock. This birthed the daylight-visible BlinkerSign®, a first-of-its-kind solution available in a huge array of sign types, not just STOP signs.

The Turning Point

Within a few years, LED-enhanced signs gained a reputation among state and local governments for being a critical and cost-effective safety measure, and other companies entered the market with their own versions of the product.

Continuing to innovate, TAPCO then developed variable dimming technology that automatically adjusts LED brightness levels according to light conditions, optimizing LED output and extending battery life. By this time, the LEDs had moved to the perimeter of the sign, instead of the letters.

Check out our BlinkerSign® Solutions Brochure for more >

In addition, TAPCO experts developed a highly efficient architecture that provides solar autonomy capabilities of 30 days or more depending on the solar package selected (signs can also be AC-powered if solar isn't preferred). They also created an easy-to-install modular design and ensured the LEDs were visible up to two miles away. All these features led to a boon in the adoption of the BlinkerSign® — all of which are made in the U.S., turning local taxpayer dollars into life-saving countermeasures for loved ones.

Then, TAPCO worked with researchers to demonstrate how the BlinkerSign® increases safety by reducing the number of blow-throughs, and this research enabled TAPCO to get the LED-enhanced sign approved in the 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Further proof of the effectiveness of LED-enhanced signs came in the form of research by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which found that distracted and impaired drivers blow through intersections with STOP signs 52.9% less when the signs are LED-enhanced.

Get your 2020 MUTCD Signs Poster here >


“It’s amazing the opportunities a solar-powered LED BlinkerSign® have created,” says TAPCO expert Brian Scharles, Sr., who has four decades of experience in the traffic safety industry. “From enhancing any MUTCD sign to including vehicle or pedestrian activations to providing remote control, the possibilities are incredible.”

Where We Are Today

Nowadays, BlinkerSigns use next-generation cellular modems, wireless radios and BlinkLink® traffic device-monitoring software to provide remote control of the signs.

There are also multiple system activation methods available. For example, pedestrian-related signs have push buttons, wrong-way signs leverage thermal activation and overheight signs utilize infrared sensors.

The success of the BlinkerSign® two decades after its creation is clear:

  • BlinkerStop® signs result in a 52.9% reduction in vehicle blow-throughs
  • In curve applications, BlinkerSigns result in a 30% reduction in vehicles exceeding curve advisory speeds over 15 miles per hour
  • In wrong-way applications, BlinkerSigns result in a 38% reduction in wrong-way driving

Now, when industry professionals across the country mention LED-enhanced signs, they often refer to them simply as BlinkerSigns, whether or not they were actually manufactured by TAPCO. The impact of TAPCO’s innovation continues to last, just like the LED-enhanced signs themselves.

Looking Ahead

Unquestionably, connected vehicles and vehicle-to-everything communication are skyrocketing in popularity, reshaping transportation as we know it. As with all technology, we must always consider a fail-safe backup to prevent disaster. This includes LED-enhanced signs, as well as the Intelligent Warning Systems they’re often a crucial part of.

Thus, at the core of the interconnected, autonomous vehicle experience will be the TAPCO BlinkerSign®, keeping road users safe and sound for years to come.

Discover your LED-enhanced traffic safety options today >

Kate Bert

TAPCO | Product Manager

Kate is a wrong-way alert and overheight warning systems expert dedicated to providing customers with innovative products, knowledge and guidance.

She has extensive experience in engineering, operations and product management and is passionate about collaborating with the team to develop lifesaving solutions to ensure safe travel for all users.

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