Humorous road signs aim to guide drivers safely on the Old Town road: NPR

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Road sign reading: “Puff, puff?” Pass the keys to a designated driver. ”

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois


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Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois


Road sign reading: “Puff, puff?” Pass the keys to a designated driver. “

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

Drive down any American freeway and there’s a good chance you’ll see a play on words or a funny reference on the next bulletin board you spot. In recent times, these messages have become ubiquitous across the country.

But other than giggling, what’s behind these bits of roadside, and are they causing drivers to behave differently?

They are known as dynamic message signs and they usually remind drivers of speed limits or traffic delays. While the technology has been around for decades, in recent years states across the country have taken a different tactic with their messages in an attempt to attract more eyeballs.

A recent post on Illinois highways is a perfect example. It read: “Do you have food cravings?” Have food delivered to you. Don’t drive too high! ”

Since Illinois legalized marijuana this year, transportation officials have tried to keep people from driving drunk, so why not appeal to a stoner’s love for snacking?

Elmo Bruggink, an Illinois tourist from the Netherlands, weighed in on the message. His home country is a place that has long faced drivers who smoke weed, but Bruggink said officials have yet to try the humor.

“We legalized marijuana, I think, 50 years ago,” Bruggink said. “I think it’s like alcohol; if you try to beat it you get a lot of crime, but you have to use it wisely.”

Messages on the highway touch on all kinds of subjects. Some are puns, some are really smart, some are just blunt, like this one: “Treat your kids like a fanny pack: buckle up behind your back.”

It’s Guy Tridgell’s job at the Illinois Department of Transportation to come up with message ideas like these. He said inspiration comes from everywhere.

“When Loyola University was in the Final Four, a member of the secretary’s team came up with the idea of ​​’Buckle up if you like to walk. “Loyola is the Ramblers,” Tridgell explained. “It’s something we were able to get around probably in a day or so, and [we] got pretty good publicity for it. “

His colleague, Director of Operations Kyle Armstrong, explained that unsafe drivers have made some of the state’s roads unsafe, and funny and timely posts are meant to save lives.

“We have almost 1,000 Illinois road fatalities a year, and we’re just looking for a way to reduce that number to zero. That’s the ultimate goal,” Armstrong said.

Mississippi officials, meanwhile, have used social media to share safety messages with other states. One of their ideas referred to the Star wars series The Mandalorian. He said, “Baby Yoda uses force but still needs a car seat.”

Road sign that reads "Hang with buds?  Avoid the seal, appoint a driver."

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois 91.9 FM

Road sign that reads "Hang with buds?  Avoid the seal, appoint a driver."

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois 91.9 FM

It sparked a lot of love on Twitter, and Chris Turner of the Mississippi Department of Transportation said it’s still one of his favorites.

“If a child has a car seat, or if a parent decides to put their child in a car seat rather than in the front seat [because of that sign], so we got it right, ”Turner said.

The Arizona Department of Transportation, which echoed the idea at an industry conference in 2015, is also part of the fun posts trend. Communications director Kevin Biesty said comedy and road safety aren’t that different – it’s all about timing.

“But the only missing link is who is in control, and that is the person behind the wheel,” he said. “How do you make people understand, at a time when people are inundated with messages, to at least make them think and talk about safety? ”

But a big question remains around all of this: Do funny signs on seat belts or distracted driving make a difference in behavior change, or is it just another distraction for kids? drivers?

The Federal Highway Administration has interviewed thousands of people, and over 80% of them said they understood the messages on the road signs. This is true even when they have to think hard to understand the joke. Another study showed dynamic signs catch the eye, making drivers pay more attention to what they say.

Back in Arizona, Kevin Biesty admitted that it was difficult to know if road signs were preventing accidents, but the most important thing was to get drivers to change their minds.

“If you were to walk into a daycare today and smoke a cigarette, everyone in this room would look at you in horror,” Biesty explained. “We have to make it socially unacceptable for people to do things on the road that put everyone at risk.”

This means that, in their universal quest to make roads safer, state DOTs will continue to make jokes.

And as a reminder to anyone looking at this on their cell phones while driving: “Cousin Eddie says Twitter is complete: put the phone down. “


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