Editorial: Witty road messages are worthwhile

Published 11:02 am Thursday, December 1, 2016

The new messages are a sign of the times.

In a world of clever texts and tweets, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is trying to catch drivers’ attention with safety messages by lightening things up. On Mondays, MnDOT will use 280 electronic message boards statewide to broadcast the new messages. They will be displayed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the metro area and noon to midnight in other locations.

The digital message signs are already in place, so this is not a grand experiment at taxpayers’ expense. This is switching things up a bit from the traditional public service-type of announcements (Buckle up) to something zingier that might resonate more with people, such as this message from an Iowa sign: “Get your head out of your apps. Drive safely.”

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Similar to a successful attention-grabbing campaign in Iowa, MnDOT’s slogans will use references from movies, TV shows, music and other slices of pop culture for its safety messages, like this Iowa favorite: “May the 4th be with you. Text I will not.” Of course, saying it in your best Yoda voice makes it even more effective. And this one is certainly timely for deer hunting season: “Whole lotta ruttin’ going on. Watch for deer.”

Measuring how much impact a digital sign’s message has on drivers and their behavior is obviously a bit tricky. But at least one study by the Federal Highway Administration showed 73 percent of travelers said the direct messages are the best way to communicate with drivers, and 23 percent said they changed their driving as a result of seeing the signs and more than half did at a later time.

Sounds like it’s worth a try in Minnesota. One of the targets of safety officials is young adult males, who are often the victims in traffic crashes and who don’t pay as much attention to traditional media.

And every state can personalize the messages. In Massachusetts one of the signs read, “Use yah blinkah.”

Maybe in the spirit of the season and the start of Kiwanis Holiday Lights, a message over a Mankato area highway could say: “Make sure the red lights in your rearview mirror are from Sibley Park.”

— Mankato Free Press, Nov. 27

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