Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Transportation agencies' electronic messaging devices may feature some of the best one-liners in America

Electronic billboard slogans from the Utah Department of Transportation (Photo by Utah DOT)
On long stretches of rural road in states that limit billboards, sometimes the most entertaining signs are the official messaging devices of state highway departments. "As summer car travelers are noticing, state transportation officials have become a bit of a trip," Jennifer Levitz reports for The Wall Street Journal. "Traffic specialists who once stuck to dispatches like 'Westbound I-70 left lane closed at Wentzville Parkway' are spicing up electronic billboards with snark, dad jokes and the occasional eyebrow-raiser."

Examples include an admonition to "Get your head out of your apps" or warnings that "Santa sees you when you're speeding". It's unclear how well the eye-catching slogans help with road safety, but in a Federal Highway Administration-sponsored survey, respondents said roadside safety messages are more likely to change their driving behavior than other kinds of messages, Levitz reports.

Electronic message screens were originally used for more staid reminders about lane closures and reminders to use your seatbelt. But about five years ago, an Iowa Department of Transportation employee helped start the trend toward wit, Levitz reports. Traffic-safety engineer Willy Sorenson was assigned to come up with slogans for times no urgent messages were needed, and decided to have some fun. He and colleague Tracey Bramble brainstorm slogans twice a year, then run their ideas past a committee to make sure the slogans are suitable for use.

Other states' highway agencies decided to get in on the fun, and now have a Facebook group to trade ideas, according to Sam Cole, the traffic safety communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation. The Missouri DOT recently solicited ideas from the public. Spokesperson Taylor Brune said "Don't be a tool, buckle up, fool," was one entry rejected. "That was was an obvious no for us," he told Levitz.

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