FHWA Suspending New Approvals for RRFB

At the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) FHWA announced some significant news with regard to the use of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB). In short, FHWA is suspending new requests for approval to use RRFBs by agencies that do not already have approval. For more information, read on…

History

  • In July 2008, FHWA issued an Interim Approval for the optional use of rectangular rapid flashing beacons.
  • The Interim Approval was issued based on experimentation in Florida that showed the device to be very effective in increasing driver yielding compliance at uncontrolled pedestrian crossings.
  • The approval was issued after the 2009 MUTCD was making its way through federal rulemaking. Therefore, the Interim Approval was issued to allow use of RRFBs until the next update of the MUTCD, the date of which is unknown at this time.
  • A condition of Interim Approvals is that agencies must submit a request to FHWA to use a device. Many states have requested and been granted blanket approval for all jurisdictions within their state.

What’s happening now?

  • When the device was recommended for approval by the NCUTCD and ultimately included as an Interim Approval by FHWA, there was one manufacturer of the device, an individual who had developed the concept.
  • The understanding of the NCUTCD and FHWA at that time was that the RRFB concept in general would not be patented. This is important because the MUTCD does not allow the inclusion of patented devices.
  • Since that time, several other vendors have begun to offer RRFBs.
  • In the meantime, the original developer of the RRFB has obtained a fairly broad patent on RRFBs and subsequently taken legal action against other companies manufacturing RRFBs.
  • This legal action has caused the FHWA legal counsel to direct staff to stop issuing new approvals for use of the RRFB until the patent issue is sorted out.

What does it mean?

  • According to FHWA, if an agency has already been granted approval to use RRFBs, nothing is changing for them at this time. They can leave existing RRFBs in place and install new ones. The agencies that have approval are listed here. Those state DOTs with an asterisk next to them have been granted approval for all jurisdictions within their state.
    -- For agencies that have been granted approval, practitioners should continue to consider RRFBs as potential treatment devices for uncontrolled crossings.
    -- However, note that an option available to FHWA is the complete revocation of the Interim Approval. If this were to happen, no new installations would be permitted by any agency. FHWA would have the option to allow existing installations to remain in place. Agencies should be aware of this uncertainty around RRFBs when planning, programming, and prioritizing projects.
  • For agencies that don’t currently have approval, FHWA has indicated that no new RRFBs should be installed.
    -- Agencies that don’t have approval but have near-term plans to implement RRFBs should be made aware of FHWA’s direction. If agencies have questions, they can contact their FHWA Division office.
    -- RRFBs that are being considered in the planning stages of projects should still be considered. Indications are that the NCUTCD and FHWA see the RRFB as a valuable enough device that they are going to find a way to resolve this issue or consider a comparable alternative.

If you have any questions on this, please feel free to contact Scott Beaird.