Other Newspapers: Feds’ Road Sign Suggestion Misguided

State highway road signs have taken a turn in recent years, taking advantage of electronic options to get the point across using a bit of humor.

Not all of them have been good. Some barely reached the level of dad jokes that have been around for multiple generations. Others were clever, though. Who wouldn’t prefer to read “Drive like the person your dog thinks you are,” or “Visiting in-laws? Slow down. Get there late,” than a generic safety reminder?

Apparently, the answer is the federal government.

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration published a new rule book in December. It isn’t exactly a ban on such messages, but strongly discourages them out of fear they might be “misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and require greater time to process and understand.”

Folks, if you don’t immediately understand the meaning behind the message “Camp in a state park, not the left lane,” we are compelled to question whether you should be driving.

The simple reality is that “Drive hammered? Get nailed,” is a lot easier to process than a lot of the billboards people pass every day. So is “Only Rudolph should drive lit.”

Short, pithy signs that get a message across using an unconventional approach are probably more effective than saying “State law prohibits texting while driving.” That’s dull enough to risk putting the driver to sleep, which is an entirely different risk factor.

We’ll grant some attempts try far too hard. There’s a picture of one floating around that says “Bob wears orange. Don’t hit Bob. We need him.” While it’s impossible to prove, that sign seems like precisely the thing that inspired the FHA revisions. It’s a long way to go to say “Use caution in work zones,” and it’s not a particularly clever trip.

Similar criticisms can be lodged against some suggested revisions, though. The manual discourages the message “Don’t text. Just drive,” in favor of “No hand-held phone by driver.” Only a dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat can reasonably believe the latter is quicker to read or easier to understand.

While getting a clear message across should never be sacrificed for a pun, the recommendations miss the mark in exactly the way the NFL’s officials do when they penalize touchdown celebrations. Preventing someone from accomplishing a task with flair is not the biggest concern reasonable people have.

For all the snarky takes the manual has produced, there are serious issues underlying the recommendations. Last month we wrote about Wisconsin’s road fatalities taking an apparent drop in 2023. That was good news, but it’s not representative of the country as a whole.

Nationally, deaths on U.S. roads are heading in the wrong direction. That’s not acceptable when the technology and equipment vehicles contain should protect people better than ever. Automakers have a better understanding of what protects people than they had in years past, and much of that is being built into the vehicles they produce. That means the responsibility for the rise lies largely with the occupants.

Making cautionary messages less memorable won’t help correct that issue. Nor will misguided efforts to standardize every single item drivers see. If people put down the phone when they see a reminder about safety, that’s a good thing. And that’s true regardless of how the message is presented.

We’d suggest the feds back off on any real enforcement of the manual’s recommendations on this specific issue. Sure, get rid of the ones that don’t address a pertinent issue. Things like “Trapped in a sign factory,” don’t convey any meaning.

But let Boston’s signs say “Use ya blinkah.” With both Brady and Belichick gone they need something to entertain them.

— Eau Claire Leader-Telegram


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today