PCMS/Flashing Arrow Panels (PCMS/FAP)

Portable changeable message signs (PCMS) and Flashing Arrow Panels (FAP) are traffic control devices that are frequently used by Traffic Engineers to inform motorists of unusual driving conditions and to guide traffic through work zones. Typically, a PCMS is housed on a trailer or on a truck bed and can be deployed quickly for meeting the temporary requirements.

Use of PCMS and FAP are generally defined in the MUTCD(1): “Portable changeable message signs (PCMS) are traffic control devices with the flexibility to display a variety of messages to fit the needs of road and street authorities. Each message consists of one or more displays. PCMS are used most frequently on high density, urban freeways, but have applications on all types of highways where highway alignment, traffic routing problems, or other pertinent conditions require advance warning and information.”

The MUTCD further defines the use of Flashing Arrow Panels (sometimes referred to as “arrow display”) as: “a sign with a matrix of elements. The matrix, capable of either flashing or sequential displays, is intended to provide additional warning and directional information to assist in merging and controlling traffic through or around a temporary traffic control zone. An arrow display should be used in combination with appropriate signs, barricades, or other traffic control devices.

The NTPEP Technical Committee responsible for authoring the Project Work Plan convenes yearly at the NTPEP National (Annual) Meeting. During this working meeting, the Project Work Plan is discussed; changes made, and shortly thereafter balloted for adoption. Improvements are immediately implemented in the next available testing cycle. When compared to other standards development exercises, the NTPEP process is agile, effective, and efficient.

NTPEP Designated Lab:

  • Florida Department of Transportation

NTPEP - PCMS/Flashing Arrow Panels

Committee Name:
NTPEP-Technical Committee on Portable Changeable Message Signs and Flashing Arrow Panels
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Meeting Materials
PCMS FAP_Presentation_NTPEP2012 (PowerPoint)

Work Plan
NTPEP tests products according to a Project Work Plan, which describes the laboratory and/or field test protocols used to conduct the evaluation. The Project Work Plan is a consensus-based document and includes peer review and input from industry experts. Each Project Work Plan is adopted after receiving at least two-thirds affirmative support from 52 AASHTO member states. The Project Work Plan is the basis for host states to conduct their testing and evaluation. When implemented by state DOTs, their own state standard specifications may supersede the NTPEP Project Work Plan. Industry is advised to be aware of state-level requirements, which may supersede basic NTPEP testing.

Project Work Plan for the Field Evaluation of Portable Changeable Message Signs (PCMS) *2-13-13

Project Work Plan for the Field Evaluation of Flashing Arrow Panels (FAP) *2-13-13

User Guides
PCMS Data Usage Guide

FAP Data Usage Guide

Please go to NTPEP DataMine.

Please go to NTPEP DataMine.

Portable Changeable Message Signs (PCMS) Flashing Arrow Panels (FAP)


  • PCMS products evaluated shall be solar powered and in compliance with the standards as stated in Section 6F.60 of the 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
  • FAP products evaluated shall be solar powered and in compliance with the standards as stated in Section 6F.61 of the 2009
  • The evaluation consists of “Sight Tests” that evaluate driver ability to see and read the displayed message, and “Performance Tests” that evaluate the sign’s ability to remain powered with and without the solar


Field Evaluation

Sight Tests

    • Sight tests will be performed by 3 evaluators traveling toward the sign in a
    • Daytime and nighttime evaluations will be performed for each
    • Evaluations will be performed on a flat road in clear, cloudless weather. The setting will be free from outside visual distractions such as city lights or
    • PCMS products will display 2 lines of non-traffic related words and 1 line of letters that do not form
    • The evaluators will check for visibility, legibility, and angularity and will record a distance for each
      • Visibility – The distance at which the displayed message is visible when approaching the sign in a line perpendicular to the sign
      • Legibility – The distance at which the all characters of the displayed message can be read.
      • Angularity – The maximum angle from a line perpendicular to the sign face where characters in the message are still
      • Evaluators will take turns driving during the visibility, legibility, and angularity

Performance Test

    • Signs are tested in cold (low 40’s) and hot (upper 80’s) weather
    • The starting voltage level of the sign battery-bank shall be recorded at the start of testing (with solar array connected). After 30 days of continuous operation, the voltage level will be measured

Shutdown Test

    • Signs are operated with the solar array disconnected until the sign shuts down and ceases to display a message. This is intended to indicate the sign’s battery backup system capacity.


Additional information about this evaluation can be found at: http://www.ntpep.org/Pages/PCMS.aspx

AASHTO National Transportation Product Evaluation Program (NTPEP) www.ntpep.org

AASHTO NTPEP DataMine https://data.ntpep.org/


Success Stories

Sandra M Urrutia

ITS Technical Unit

New York State Department of Transportation, Main Office

50 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12209


New York State Department of Transportation maintains an APL (Approved Product List) for Portable Variable Message Signs (PVMS). These are temporary traffic control devices with the flexibility to display a variety of messages. In order for NYSDOT to evaluate a PVMS for the APL, companies complete and submit the NYSDOT PVMS qualification form. (https://www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/operating/oom/transportation-systems/repository/VMSQualificationForm_2017.pdf)

There are currently three categories for qualification: the submittal of a successful NTPEP testing, the submittal, review, and acceptance of qualified test results from another State Transportation Agency or nationally recognized testing facility, or by testing and evaluation of the PVMS by NYSDOT subject matter expert.

By accepting the NTPEP testing, NYSDOT only reviews, tests, and accepts approximately 5% of the PVMS applications submitted. The State of New York benefits in cost from the reduction of time and man hours needed for the evaluation, testing and acceptance.


Sample Specifications

  • Kansas qualification procedure for PCMS
  • New York spec for FAP
  • NYSDOT VMS Certifictation Requirements