The word makers behind these eye-catching road signs


Despite rising gasoline prices and forecasted rain, more drivers are expected this Memorial Day weekend. And one thing you might notice – memorable wording digital safety signs from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Signs could read “Signal Intent for Accident Prevention” or “See Cone… Respect Area”. WMRA’s Jessie Knadler chats with VDOT wordmakers to find out what’s up with these eye-catching signs.

[Highway traffic]

Not that long ago, all that was required of a traffic safety sign was to get right to the point: “Slow down. Merge to the left. Don’t drink or drive. Good advice. Not memorable.

But we now live in a world where fatal traffic accidents are actually on the increase. They are up 20% in Virginia, according to VDOT. This, despite great advances in road and automotive technology.

Why is this happening? Five big reasons not entirely surprising: speeding, driving without a seatbelt, distraction (hello, smartphone), drowsiness and drunk driving. Shannon Marshall, VDOT spokesperson:

SHANNON MARSHALL: VDOT’s number one priority is safety, so we used catchy messages in the hopes of grabbing the attention of drivers to start a conversation about safe driving.

This is part of VDOT’s year-long campaign to get people to focus more while driving.

DAN TAYLOR: Really, the point is for people to just start looking at the signs and reading them.

Dan Taylor is the Statewide Trafficking Operations Specialist for VDOT. He’s the guy in charge of creating the smart posts.

TAYLOR: It’s one of the fun things we can do.

Are you up for some of his team’s most inspired jokes? Here is:

“Drive hammered, get nailed”

“5 minutes late won’t kill you – Speeding can”

Here’s one for the football season: “Don’t Fumble – Tackle Drunk Driving”

This one was linked to the release of the last Star wars: “Speed ​​leads to the dark side”

And here’s one for Halloween: “Don’t become the living dead”

Creating eye-catching road signs presents an interesting writing challenge.

How to capture the targeted attention on specific misconduct of motorists flying at 70 miles per hour? Is it both concise and serious? And do it in 24 characters or less? It is not easy.

TAYLOR: The point is to tie it to behavior. Thus, a motorist will drive unbuckled. They’ll see a quick little joke on the looped drive.

Sometimes the death statistics will follow the quip.

TAYLOR: So maybe they’re inclined to change their behavior. So it’s like, here’s an action, here’s a result.

Taylor says he’s looking to other states for inspiration. It turns out that Utah and Iowa’s transportation departments are hotbeds of captivating safety signs. The guys from Iowa riff on Taylor Swift lyrics. Utah posted a sign on Thanksgiving saying the state is grateful for safe drivers. Taylor co-opted this one for Virginia.

TAYLOR: We don’t steal it. It’s just a good idea.

Once Taylor’s team approves the phrasing, the five regional VDOT centers decide which signs they want for their specific areas. This doesn’t necessarily have to do with where the most accidents happen, but where management thinks the signs will get the most attention.

TAYLOR: You could see it on social media. You meet someone who retweets about it with their comment about how funny the sign was, or whatever.

But smart security signs can also backfire.

One of Taylor’s hottest panels was inspired by the blockbuster Black Panther. It was written “Wakanda… Are you a pilot? Safety is king.

TAYLOR: The creative process is what it is. The Wakanda thing came to me overnight.

(If you don’t know what the Wakanda is, you might want to get out more.) But it was so smart that drivers in Northern Virginia actually slowed down as they got closer. This caused traffic jams. See? Creating a good safety sign is tricky. Marshall again:

MARSHALL: Anytime there’s any congestion or distraction related to it, we’ll absolutely blink it until it’s gone.

“Flash it. This is the VDOT language to make the sign empty.

As to whether the signs actually change the behavior of the driver, it’s really hard to measure. Taylor is good in his role as an influencer.

TAYLOR: If we can influence a person, so much the better. If we can influence 200,000 people, that’s the icing on the cake.

As Virginians head to Memorial Day weekend, maybe some might think Driver Wakanda… ARE YOU?

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