MDOT road signs share fun safety messages

  • Popular MDOT panels debuted in 2018.
  • Many have references to pop cultures. One in particular, a nod to cousin Eddie, has gone viral.
  • The MDOT created a contest for the public to submit ideas. See their contributions.
  • Commuters eagerly await messages, note if they are absent.

If you’ve recently driven on a Mississippi highway, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the signs. You know those.

Lit in bright orange, the original and often funny phrases prompting drivers to pay attention to the road have become a sensation.

The original idea of ​​the people of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the signs debuted in 2018. Over the next year or so, they became a familiar presence among Mississippi drivers.

Mike Flood, foreground, public information manager at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and Paul Katool, digital media manager at MDOT, discuss the department's roadside digital messaging system and the clever and sometimes humorous messages they urge motorists to put down their phones and drive safely and be aware of work areas.

Photos of MDOT’s “Cousin Eddie” post have gone viral

Paul Katool, MDOT’s digital media manager, first saw the success other state transportation departments, especially Iowa and Arizona, have had with their dynamic message boards. It turns out that the department had already thrown out the idea, but because “it’s not the most serious thing in the world,” the idea was rejected.

But the last holiday season, Katool got the green light. Every day, a new message appeared on the 72 digital signs on the highways and highways of Mississippi.

Right away, one of the early favorites was a nod to Cousin eddie, the lovable but unbearable character from the cult classic of the 1980s “Christmas holidays” movie.

“Cousin Eddie says Twitter is full. Put the phone down,” the message read.

“The holidays were a good time to experiment because you have so many Christmas carols, Cousin Eddie stuff, everyone loves ‘Christmas Vacation’,” said Mike Flood, MDOT’s public information manager. “It was a great opportunity to start making these messages.”

The team would brainstorm and define their favorites. These went to the board. The public reacted. And then some.

“From the start they were a success,” Flood said. “Everyone liked them.”

But the runaway favorite? Cousin Eddie, of course.

“I was very happy that this was approved,” Katool said. “I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this.'”

Images of the sign have gone viral. Katool said he felt like he was managing McDonald’s social media accounts with the constant stream of notifications and memes.

Now, when he tells people he works for MDOT, the first thing they mention is the signs. Flood said he would receive random text messages from people he attended high school with, telling him, “I love traffic signs.”

“From a public relations standpoint, there really is nothing better,” Katool said.

“Those who made my day”: drivers eagerly await messages from MDOT

But the messages are sporadic, so on days the screens go dark, Katool said he’ll likely hear from a disappointed motorist.

(The story continues after the photo gallery.)

“We didn’t know what the reaction would be, but honestly it was 95% positive,” Katool said. “People, if we don’t have a message while they’re waiting for one, they’re like, ‘Where’s our message? There was actually a woman who called me and was very upset that she didn’t see the message that day… a lot of people will call and say ‘Those who made my day’.

“I feel like we’re doing a lot of different things, not only getting safety messages across, which is very important – we’re trying to save lives – but also helping people have a good day doesn’t of badness.”

As for the woman who missed the sign? Initially, MDOT started the messages at 6 a.m. and the woman missed them because she started her commute to work at 5 a.m.

Audience Joins MDOT Funny Traffic Announcement Contest

When they want to post a new post, Katool will often email the office and staff will come up with ideas. Last summer, however, the MDOT turned to the general public.

“People love it so much, why not throw it away and say, ‘What can you come up with? Show us your best shot, ”Katool said.

The department received nearly 900 registrations.

“That’s a lot of people taking the time to think of creative things to send,” Flood said.

“There were less good ones, but there were a lot of really good ones,” Katool said. “It was a very difficult process to reduce it.”

When they got there at 20, the whole team gathered around a conference table to decide on the winning entry, submitted by Mike Hudgins, from Madison: “You all drive safe now, hear? “

The Mississippi Department of Transportation, which launched its digital messages in 2018, held a contest for the public to submit messages.  In her first contest, this post, submitted by Mike Hudgins of Madison, was the winner.

“The reason we picked this one was because we thought, unlike some of those others that you can put anywhere in the country, it was Mississippi, centered on the south,” Katool said.

The finalists?

  • Submitted by Jody Couch, Gulfport: “Do you think texting and driving is OK? Bless your heart. “
  • Submitted by Jake Penley, Vicksburg: “Strap yourself in before Daddy turns that car over.”

The Georgia Ministry of Transport saw what MDOT did and is also running a competition.

To kick off the football season, the MDOT released several football-themed posts that were very popular, Flood said.

The MDOT team is already preparing for the end of year celebrations. Cousin Eddie’s post will most likely make a callback performance, Katool promised.

While the signs have helped make the agency more “personable,” the signs aren’t the only indicator that there is a lighter, more engaging tone at MDOT lately, Flood said. The department’s social media pages also have a “fun and engaging” attitude.

“When you put out a lot of really serious posts, I think it’s good to mix them up a bit,” he said. “I tell them all the time, they do a great job with MDOT social media, it’s a little more fun and engaging these days, it’s not that black and white and cold and concrete.”

MDOT’s most important message: safety first

While the signs are fun, there is a serious message behind them.

Flood wears an orange ribbon on the lapel of his jacket to raise awareness of worker safety. Three MDOT employees died this year. The most recent death was Saturday in Newton County.

Quoting their Executive Director, Melinda McGrath, Flood said: “An engaged audience is a safe audience.”

“Safety is our top priority, always has been,” he said. “There is nothing that takes precedence over safety.”

The signs highlight a range of issues, from texting and driving to drunk driving. However, if there is an accident or an immediate safety issue, the original post is immediately replaced with the latest information.

The MDOT hopes the posts have started to draw people’s attention to signs they might have otherwise overlooked.

“Getting that kind of message into the heads of motorists across the state, I think it’s a great way to do it,” Flood said.

“There are so many times you can say ‘Slow down, buckle up, watch out for work areas,’” Katool added. “I think at some point people log you out, so it’s a really good opportunity to get people’s attention. If a person sees this message and is like ‘I’m going to hang up my cell phone’ and it saves a life, 100% worth it. “

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Contact Sarah Fowler at 601-961-7303 or [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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