Federal Highway Administration says humorous digital message signs are "distracting" and should be limited
BATON ROUGE - The Federal Highway Administration is telling state agencies to put the brakes on puns and clever phrases displayed on digital message boards along interstates and highways.
The FHWA released new guidelines in the 11th edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) late last year. The MUTCD sets the standard for all traffic signals and signs along publicly traveled thoroughfares across the U.S. and included a section on Digital Message Signs (DMS).
In the guide, the FHWA suggests DMS should only be used to display a clear, simple message and avoid the use of humor or pop culture references that could confuse drivers. A recent report by the Associated Press claimed the FHWA intended to ban funny signs entirely, but the FHWA released a statement for clarification.
"The Federal Highway Administration supports the use of changeable message signs for traffic safety campaigns that are meant to ensure the safety of the traveling public. Changeable message signs are considered to be traffic control devices, and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is the national standard for these devices. FHWA recently announced the 11th edition of the MUTCD, which updated provisions related to the use of changeable message signs, along with other updates. The new edition does not include a ban on humor or pop culture references on changeable message signs. Rather, it includes a recommendation to avoid the use of humor and pop culture references in changeable message signs that may confuse or distract drivers. State and local agencies are expected to use good judgment based on MUTCD longstanding principles for message signs that call for them to fulfill a need; command attention; convey a clear, simple message; command respect; and provide adequate time for proper response."
Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for LaDOTD, says Louisiana drivers won't notice much of a change because the agency already adheres to a strict internal policy regarding DMS. The message boards are typically used to convey information to drivers related to travel times, incidents ahead, or construction.
"Distracted driving is one of the biggest causes for crashes that we have so we don't want to contribute to that," Mallett said.
A few exceptions to the rule include safety campaigns, reminders during holiday travel periods, and even a tribute to the LSU Women's Basketball team as they made their way to Dallas for a big game.
"We knew that there would be a lot of LSU traffic on I-49 to I-20, so those signs said 'winners wear their seat belts,'" Mallett said.
All in all, it's up to individual states to determine whether they will abide by the FHWA. With DMS, the line between effective communication and distractions is sometimes crossed unintentionally.
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