The Science of Traffic Cone Placement

You’ve seen them a million times, because they’re all over the place: traffic cones. Whether it’s a minor inconvenience that makes you turn and take another street, or if you find a whole area of town is covered in them, you’ve been affected by those little orange cones more than once. There are an estimated 140 million being used at any point worldwide.

Even though we see them all the time, how much thought do you really pay traffic cones when you see them? If you’re like most people, the answer is: none.

In case you’re curious, or in case you need to know for your own paving project, here is an in-depth guide to traffic cones: what they are, what they are used for, and more.

How are cones used by contractors and pavers?

Also called TTC (temporary traffic controls) or safety cones, orange traffic cones are used to redirect traffic in a multitude of situations. They’re used to redirect drivers to avoid construction zones (such as when parts of pavement has recently received work or been sealcoated), and also to avoid road damage.

Traditionally, shorter traffic cones are 18-inches tall and used in lower-speed areas. Residential locations are where you are most likely to find these small, iconic cones.

Larger, 28-inch tall cones are used in high-speed areas like highways. They are more visible and can thus direct traffic from a further distance.

Basic usage guidelines include:

  • They must be orange and made of a material that can be struck by a car without causing major damage to the vehicle.
  • Day time and low-speed areas must use cones at least 18 inches high.
  • High-speed areas must use cones at least 28 inches high.
  • For nighttime use, cones must have reflectors. Cones 26-38 inches high must have 2 bands of white reflectors that measure 6 and 4 inches wide. 
  • They must be heavy or stable enough to withstand traffic and weather conditions. They can be doubled to increase weight in windy conditions. Ballast should be added minimally to keep them from moving while still preventing possible vehicle damage.

More details are available at the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices web page.


How do Drivers React to Traffic Cones?

Guidelines for acting Safety in Traffic Cone Areas

Remember, especially if you are driving a large truck or other heavy vehicle, cones don’t slow you down, your brakes do. Be sure to:

  1. Slow down with care near any cone zone.
  2. Stay alert: try to avoid any distractions like your phone, radio, or anything else.
  3. Think about any cone as though there were a person standing behind it.


Driving Safely in a Cone Area

Go Slowly

  • Always plan a route for extra travel time in the case of construction or other road blockages (i.e., expect the unexpected). 
  • Pay attention to the posted speed limits. Not only is it more dangerous to speed in cone zones, there are usually higher fines.
  • Allow extra space between vehicles. You can’t help being tailgated, but you can avoid tailgating the person in front of you.

Avoid Distractions

  • Don’t text or use any devices while driving. Just focus on the road.
  • Follow signs, flags, and worker directions.

Respect Roadside Workers

  • Slow down and pay attention in cone zones, even if you don’t see anyone working.
  • Be patient. 
  • Make eye contact with workers you do see, so they know you are aware of them.

Long story short: slow down, pay attention, follow the rules. If you do those things, you could save somebody’s life.


When to use Traffic Cones

Generally, individual drivers don’t carry any cones in their vehicle, and will be unlikely to use them. In fact, most people seem to think that cones are only for professional and construction purposes. However, there are times when they could be useful to you. For instance:

  1. Cones alert oncoming and passing traffic to your position. They are much more effective than a stopped car, even one with the emergency lights flashing. If people see cones around your vehicle, they are more likely to slow down, and even stop to help.
  2. If your car’s battery has died, the hazard lights might not work at all. Cones with reflectors can get people’s attention, not only to inform them to slow down, but to let emergency help know where you are.
  3. Cones can block off more area than just your car. In the case of a serious emergency like a traffic accident, you might need to place cones to protect car wreckage or an injured person. A stopped car only alerts other drivers to the car, whereas cones can block off and bring attention to a whole area.
  4. Cones can give advance warnings when there are sharp turns or hills that prevent long-distance viewing. This ensures safety by letting approaching drivers know what is coming up.


What are some other uses for traffic cones?

There are plenty of traffic cone uses outside of construction and roadside use. Obviously, cones are used to redirect traffic in the case of asphalt damage or construction, but they have plenty of other uses, some of which might surprise you.

They Can Warn of Indoor Hazards

Construction sites both outdoors and indoors can use traffic cones to warn people where not to drive or walk. Maybe the floor is slippery, or maybe it’s unstable; either way, traffic cones can be used for vehicular or foot traffic. They are also generally great ways to keep people out of remodeling or construction areas in general.

Controlling Foot Traffic in Crowded Areas

Cones are symbol of authority, too, since people think they’re only used by professionals. Therefore, they can be used both indoors and outdoors in crowded areas to cordon off areas for VIPs or simply to prevent overcrowding. You’ve probably seen some used in these situations and not even realized it.


Paving the Way for Better Cone Use

If you are looking for paving contractors who really know their stuff, including traffic cone use. Look no further than Reliable Paving. We are a high-quality paving contract with years of experience. We can do whatever job you have in mind when it comes to asphalt paving, asphalt repairs, and more, all while maintaining the highest level of safety standards—even down to our use of traffic cones.