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What did that freeway signal say? States will get artistic, however feds warn of confusion

What did that freeway signal say? States will get artistic, however feds warn of confusion



By Tim Henderson, Stateline.org

States have had their enjoyable with freeway security messages, posting all the pieces from Taylor Swift lyrics to discourage texting in Mississippi, to a “vibe verify” — winking at Gen Z — to encourage seat belt use in Arizona.

Such messages are proven intermittently on hundreds of freeway indicators, generally known as variable messaging indicators, when the billboards aren’t lit up with alerts about accidents, development or different real-time visitors points.

As the summer time trip season will get going, thousands and thousands of America’s interstate drivers can anticipate finding extra puns, foolish turns of phrase or cultural references on these large missives.

But federal security officers aren’t amused by states’ cheek. In latest years, they’ve begun to discourage what they view as overly artistic messages, fearing that in attempting to entertain drivers, freeway officers are complicated fairly than enlightening them. Some states, most just lately Arizona and New Jersey, have pushed again. As a end result, officers on the Federal Highway Administration clarified this yr that they’re not banning road-sign humor outright.

Mississippi, the state with the very best motorized vehicle fatality price within the nation final yr, has been significantly artistic. Recent messages have included “FOUR I’S IN MISSISSIPPI TWO EYES ON THE ROAD,” and a reference to the Taylor Swift music “Anti-Hero”: “TEXTING AND DRIVING? SAY IT: I’M THE PROBLEM IT’S ME.”

“It’s been an efficient program for us. We haven’t been contacted by [the] federal freeway division and advised to stop and desist. We wish to be in compliance, however we haven’t stopped our message program,” stated Paul Katool, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

A brand new rulebook issued final yr “doesn’t prohibit messages from together with humor or cultural references,” Federal Highway Administration chief Shailen Bhatt wrote in a latest letter to U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton, an Arizona Democrat, and Thomas Kean Jr., a New Jersey Republican.

The representatives had complained earlier this yr that the company was stifling state creativity, calling the brand new guidelines “a blanket discouragement of humorous indicators that leaves no room for state-by-state discretion.”

“Both of those states have indicators that use slang or standard language, however the messages are clear,” the representatives wrote of their letter to Bhatt.

They cited messages resembling two Arizona contest winners, “SEATBELTS ALWAYS PASS THE VIBE CHECK” and “I’M JUST A SIGN ASKING DRIVERS TO USE TURN SIGNALS,” in addition to New Jersey’s latest vacation messages: “ DON’T BE A GRINCH, LET THEM MERGE” and “ SANTA’S WATCHING, PUT DOWN THE PHONE.”

Bhatt’s response is an obvious softening of the FHWA’s opposition to the indicators, after the company requested New Jersey to drag down some messages in 2022. Some grew to become so standard on social media that the state Department of Transportation requested drivers to not take images of the indicators whereas driving, posting a cat meme by itself social media accounts: “IF YOU KEEP TAKING PHOTOS OF THE VMS BOARDS WHILE DRIVING WE WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND AND GO BACK TO THE OLD MESSAGES.”

Messages proven in 2022 included “GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR APPS” and “SLOW DOWN. THIS AIN’T THUNDER ROAD,” a reference to a music by favourite son Bruce Springsteen, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The Federal Highway Administration isn’t telling states what to do — states retain management of their message boards — however it doesn’t suppose humor and cultural references are useful. Vehicles move underneath the indicators within the blink of a watch, and the missives might puzzle individuals who don’t “get it” immediately.

“FHWA appreciates the States’ efforts to creatively convey vital security messaging to motorists. Those messages must be balanced with sustaining driver consideration,” Bhatt wrote in his letter to the lawmakers.

An company spokesperson, Nancy Singer, stated in an announcement that “states might develop their very own visitors security marketing campaign messages” however they need to keep away from “messages with obscure that means, references to standard tradition, which can be supposed to be humorous, or in any other case use non-standard syntax.”

There’s some critical analysis behind the brand new steerage: One of the research cited in Bhatt’s letter reveals that overly artistic language can have the mistaken impact when used on a freeway message signal. Driving conduct can get extra harmful, not much less so, in the event you’re attempting to course of a complicated message.

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