Jan 16, 2024 - Economy

Feds: End of the road for funny highway signs

Photo of a highway sign that says "Use yah blinkah".

An electronic highway sign on I-93 in Boston in 2014 riffs on the local accent. Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP

Enjoy humorous signs on freeways and highways while they still last.

Driving the news: The Federal Highway Administration is phasing out funny messaging over the next couple of years, saying this type of wording on the road could "adversely affect respect for the sign."

Details: States have two years to implement the new guidelines, according to the administration in its updated manual released last month.

  • The administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, said messaging should be "simple, direct, brief, legible, and clear" as well as "relevant to the road user on the roadway on which the message is displayed."

Signs should avoid messaging with "obscure or secondary meanings," including pop culture references or anything "intended to be humorous," per the administration.

  • Such messaging, the administration notes, "might be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and require greater time to process and understand."

What they're saying: "The safety of all road users is the priority," a spokesperson for the administration said in a statement to Axios on Tuesday.

  • The administration "supports the use of changeable message signs, which are operated by state transportation departments, in conjunction with traffic safety campaign[s]," the spokesperson said.
  • "States are expected to exercise good judgment in how and when they use changeable message signs for traffic safety messages, and in their specific wording of the messages," the spokesperson added.

Zoom out: Federal officials have regarded these fun messages as a hazard for years, arguing that they might impose certain safety risks due to distractions or even confusion among drivers, per the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, these iconic highway signs have often featured state-specific humor and puns, such as "Use yah blinkah" in Massachusetts and "O-H-I-Whoa! Watch your speed" in the Buckeye State.

  • Some states have taken their funny road signs to the next level, including Arizona, which holds its own safety message contest.
  • The Arizona Department of Transportation said its 2023 winners, based on over 3,700 submissions, included: "I'm just a sign asking a driver to use turn signals" and "Seatbelts always pass the vibe check."

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