Traffic cone

Traffic cones, also called pylons, witches’ hats,[1][2]road cones, highway cones, safety cones, channelizing devices,[3]construction cones, or just cones, are usually cone-shaped markers that are placed on roads or footpaths to temporarily redirect traffic in a safe manner. They are often used to create separation or merge lanes during road construction projects or automobile accidents, although heavier, more permanent markers or signs are used if the diversion is to stay in place for a long period of time.

Cone-shaped marker used for traffic management
Traffic cones are usually used to divert traffic. The reflective sleeves are for nighttime visibility; the bosses at the top ease handling and can be used for attaching caution tape.

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Traffic cones were invented by Charles D. Scanlon, an American who, while working as a painter for the Street Painting Department of the City of Los Angeles, was unimpressed with the traditional wooden tripods and barriers used to mark roads which were damaged or undergoing repainting. Scanlon regarded these wooden structures as easily broken, hard to see, and a hazard to passing traffic.[4] Scanlon’s rubber cone was designed to return to an upright position when struck by a glancing blow. The patent for his invention was granted in 1943.[5]

Traffic cones were first used in the United Kingdom in 1958, when the M6 motorway opened. These traffic cones were a substitute for red lantern paraffin burners being used during construction on the Preston Bypass.[6] In 1961, David Morgan of Burford, Oxfordshire, UK believes that he constructed the first experimental plastic traffic cones, which replaced pyramid-shaped wooden ones previously used.[7]

In the United States on May 1, 1959 the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Oakland, California adopted the policy of placing the orange safety cones at the left front and left rear corners of their service trucks while parked on the street to increase visibility and safety for the workers. This policy was implemented as the result of a suggestion by their employee, Russell Storch, a cable splicer. He was awarded $45 for his suggestion. This policy is still in use today.[8]

Although originally made of concrete, today’s versions are more commonly brightly colored thermoplastic or rubbercones. RecycledPVCs from bottles can be used to create modern traffic cones.[9] Not all traffic cones are conical. Pillar-shaped movable bollards fulfill a similar function.[10]

Cones in use at the “Bridgegate” entrance to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey

Traffic cones are typically used outdoors during road work or other situations requiring traffic redirection or advance warning of hazards or dangers, or the prevention of traffic. Traffic cones are also used to mark where children are playing or to block off an area. For night time use or low-light situations traffic cones are usually fitted with a retroreflective sleeve to increase visibility. On occasion, traffic cones may also be fitted with flashing lights for the same reason.

In the US, cones are required by the US Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to be fitted with reflective white bands to increase night-time visibility. Reflective collars, white strips made from white reflective plastic, slip over cones snugly, and tape or adhesive can be used to permanently attach the collars to the cones.

Traffic cones are designed to be highly visible and easily movable. Various sizes are used, commonly ranging from around 30 cm (11.8 in) to a little over 1 m (39.4 in). Traffic cones come in many different colors, with orange, yellow, pink and red being the most common colors due to their brightness. Others come in green and blue, and may also have a retroreflective strip (commonly known as “flash tape”) to increase their visibility.

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