Feds slam the brakes on funny electronic messages to drivers in Ohio and other states

It’s the end of the road for the funny, punny one-liners that the Ohio Department of Transportation has put up on electronic signs on freeways.

“OHI-Whoa! Slow Down.”
“Life is fra-jee-lay – drive safe.”
“Camp in Ohio State Parks, not the left lane.”

Those are some recent messages on ODOT’s electronic signs that may have to be rethought. ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning said last month, the Federal Highway Administration updated its manual saying pop-culture references or humor shouldn’t be used on those signs, with two years to make the change.

β€œIt’s something we’ve already adjusted to here in Ohio and we’ll continue to work with Federal Highway. If there’s anything that we misstep on, I’m sure they’ll let us know.”

Bruning said funny lines can be more memorable, especially when the efforts to get across safety standards have gotten old.

“‘Click it or ticket’, for example, is one that is easily recognized by people. But the problem is it’s kind of become stale in some regards where people have heard it over the years,” Bruning said. “We’re trying to find a new way to break through that noise and get the message that we need you to, for example, buckle up. So we’ve used humor, but we just have to be mindful of how we do it .”

The change to the manual notes that signs “should not be used to display a traffic safety campaign message if doing so could adversely affect respect for the sign. Messages with obscure or secondary meanings, such as those with popular culture references, unconventional sign legend syntax , or that are intended to be humorous, should not be used as they might be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and require greater time to process and understand.”

ODOT is taking new sign suggestions at zerodeaths.ohio.gov.