Jokes on ODOT traffic boards are all about the safety


Contributed photo/Ohio Department of Transportation

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – The cheesy puns and safety-related jokes that adorn Ohio Department of Transportation highway message boards aren’t for the entertainment of motorists. It started when the agency was approached by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

“In July of 2015, (they) approached us and said they were seeing an increase in traffic deaths,” ODOT Press Secretary Matt Bruning said. “We needed to put this in the minds of people when they were traveling the highway. Then we got the idea of using highway message boards since they were the most direct way of connecting with drivers.”

It’s now led to a movement that’s crossed state lines, pushed ODOT to create a website where people can propose their own messages for ODOT signs and a Facebook group where members of state departments of transportation across the country can talk about messages they can share and ones that have seen success.”

Ohio and other states began using short puns on the message boards. They wouldn’t distract drivers but it would give them a message that would hopefully stick into their mind about safety.

The messages are all arranged around themes – overall safety factors, impairment, using seat belts and distractions.

Bruning mentioned a couple of his favorites messages he felt hit these themes best. “If relatives make you drink, don’t drive.” He said this came from watching National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” and Cousin Eddie, played by Randy Quaid. Fourth of July brought, “Don’t drive Star Spangled hammered. Turkey says buckle buckle,” has become a Thanksgiving favorite.

“We don’t want to be distracting but we thought we could use humor,” Bruning said “We were trying to start a conversation. Do I think we’re saving lives? I hope so, we don’t have any evidence to that effect. But I’ve yet to hear of a single crash that’s been caused by the signs since it’s been tracked since 2015.”

States have also borrowed from each other or shared sign ideas on a Facebook group. The popular sign, “Camp in Ohio State Parks, not the left lane,” was borrowed from Utah, which used a similar, “Park in Utah’s mountains not the left lane.”

Bruning said the agency gets a kick when other states use their messages. One ODOT message, “Life is FRA-GEE-LAY drive safe,” which was inspired by the film “A Christmas Story,” was borrowed by Wisconson last year.

“Imitation is the best form of flattery,” Bruning said

ODOT said the messages only appear when there aren’t weather advisories, advisories on traffic conditions or other messages involving driver safety, such as times to important junctions and crashes. He said they’re all classified as low priority messages.

“The real reason for the boards is to communicate traffic alerts and other things drives need to know,” Bruning said.

Last year ODOT launched the website Zero Deaths Ohio, which gives the latest traffic statistics in the state, including traffic-related deaths and updates on the state’s traffic safety plan. Visitors can also submit ideas for messages on highway signs. Since the site was launched a year ago, there have been 5,454 submissions.

“What we’ll do: if we use someone’s message, we’ll reach out to them,” Bruning said. “Part of the submission process is providing an email. If we use the message we can reach out to them, say we’ll use their message and congratulations. Then we’ll ask if we can promote them on social media. Sometimes they say yes, or they’ll say they want to remain anonymous. We like to give credit where credit is due.”

To submit an idea for a highway message sign, visit Zero Deaths ODOT’s website.

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