Feds Unamused by Highway Sign Puns

In Top News


If you enjoy the occasional wild highway sign urging you to “Camp in the woods, not the left lane,” sadly, you’ll to have to get your dad jokes elsewhere. The Federal Highway Administration (part of the Department of Transportation) has weighed in on whether electronic safety billboards on highways with punny messages are appropriate, and per the Wall Street Journal, they don’t find them all that funny. The agency’s new guidelines are phasing out rhyming, wordplay, and pop-culture references used on variable message signs (VMS) that are meant to convey road updates and seasonal safety reminders. Some states are known for spicing up VMS with regional references and puns, which they hope to capture drivers’ attentions.

“You don’t want to be widely provocative,” said Sam Cole, a Colorado DOT safety communications manager, who is behind his department’s funny messages. “You want to be memorable and you want to generate conversation at the family dinner table.” One sign that leans more on the provocative side, reading “Get your head out of your apps,” received complaints for being too crass. Drivers also don’t like when pop culture references are too obscure, while in other cases, the signs are so good, drivers are pulling over to snap photos with them. Business Insider has a few examples included in the agency’s new guidelines, like “No hand-held phone by driver” and “State law fasten seat belt,” which get the job done, but are a little grammatically confusing, with a written-by-AI vibe.

The new guidelines, which must be adopted within the next two years, will come as a disappointment to some. BI notes that the Arizona DOT holds an annual traffic safety message contest, allowing residents to get in on the fun. Last year, 3,700 people submitted ideas, with these winners taking the crown: “I’m just a sign asking a driver to use turn signals” and “Seatbelts always pass the vibe check.” Other fun state messages run seasonally, like “Driving Basted is for Turkeys” during the Thanksgiving rush, while some lean into a local angle. While at least one study agrees the messages are more distracting than useful, professor of civil and environmental engineering Tripp Shealy tells the Journal it was difficult to measure their effectiveness, but he is for them.

story continues below

Here are a few corny notables:

  • “Changing Lanes? Use Yah Blinkah” (in Massachusetts, of course)
  • “Slow down this ain’t thunder road” (A nod to the Boss in New Jersey)
  • “Hold on to your butts, help prevent forest fires” (New Jersey)
  • “Visiting in-laws? Slow down, get there late” (Ohio, per the Drive)
  • “Don’t drive Star Spangled Hammered” (Pennsylvania)
  • “Don’t be a grinch, let them merge” (New Jersey over Christmas)

(Florida road workers made an incredible find under highway).





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